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13/11/2008 - Mobile phone use may cause long term brain damage

In our last science update (October 2008), we covered a very important recent paper finding significantly increased neuronal damage in the brains of rats having been exposed to RF radiation from GSM mobile phones.

The team of researchers from Sweden have found statistically significant (P < 0.02) neuronal damage in post-mortally examined rats having been exposed to extremely low levels of RF radiation (0.12 mW/kg up to 120 mW/kg). This is a similar exposure to those chronically exposed to Mobile Phone base stations (typically 1-3 mW/kg at a distance of 25m), and is concerning. Due to the examination requiring the death of the subject, it is not possible to analyse humans for an effect in the same manner. This supports a number of earlier papers by the same authors on cellular and neurological effects[Salford 2003, Belyaev 2005, Markova 2005, Belyaev 2006, Belyaev 2008].

A real concern here is that the neuronal cells die and the brain gradually fills up with non-functional matter that will eventually lead to loss of brain function and dementia. The work with juvenile rats seems to indicate that exposure at a young age can have a large effect later in life. As early-onset dementias have been anecdotally reported among high mobile phone users, the use of mobile phones by children is especially concerning. The only reported effects of short-term mobile phone use seem to be as a gentle brain-function stimulant, but there is no work that we know of on long-term chronic exposure effects.

Our previous news story reported on an association to chronic exposure to power-frequency magnetic fields and death from dementias. Those fields do not transfer much energy to people. Neither do the low levels of pulsing RF used in the GSM mobile phone signal that seems to cause brain-cell death in rats. These interactions must be due to more subtle mechanisms than direct transfer of energy (i.e. they are information effects rather than direct energy effects (e.g. SAR related effects). New research needs to seriously take this into account.

It also means the we should seriously ask the question: Are low SAR handsets actually safer than high SAR handsets?. At present we are told that they are, but this paper suggests otherwise. In fact the range of SARs used here were all below the range of SARs from handsets on the market (from about 0.12 W/kg (120 mW/kg) to 1.8 W/kg).

The final two paragraphs of the discussion section describe some very concerning insights, that may well indicate problems for those exposed to other people's mobile phone usage:

"The most remarkable observation in our studies on the effects of microwaves on the BBB is the fact that the lower SAR values (around 1 mW/kg) give rise to a more pronounced albumin leakage than the higher SAR values. If increase in dose had led to increased response, we feel that the risk of cellular telephones, base-stations, and other RF-emitting sources could be managed by reduction of their emitted energy. The indications from our study that the weakest fields are the biologically most harmful, poses a complicated problem. The most pronounced BBB opening effect of the mobile telephone may not be in the most superficial layers of the brain, but several centimetres deep in central cerebral structures.

"It seems quite possible that bystanders in the vicinity of mobile phone users may be affected through a passive GSM exposure, as well as larger groups exposed from distant base-stations. More, substantial research is needed, however, before reliable dose-response relationships can be established that can form the basis for recommendations for future exposure limit values that take into account non thermal effects of microwaves from mobile communications on the human brain."

Also covered by Don Maisch on EMFacts.


1. P Eberhardt JL et al, (2008) Blood-brain barrier permeability and nerve cell damage in rat brain 14 and 28 days after exposure to microwaves from GSM mobile phones, Electromagn Biol Med. 2008;27(3):215-29 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
2. P Belyaev IY et al, (October 2008) Microwaves from UMTS/GSM mobile phones induce long-lasting inhibition of 53BP1/gamma-H2AX DNA repair foci in human lymphocytes, Bioelectromagnetics. 2008 Oct 6. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
3. P Belyaev IY et al, (May 2006) Exposure of rat brain to 915 MHz GSM microwaves induces changes in gene expression but not double stranded DNA breaks or effects on chromatin conformation, Bioelectromagnetics. 2006 May;27(4):295-306 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
4. P Markova E et al, (September 2005) Microwaves from GSM mobile telephones affect 53BP1 and gamma-H2AX foci in human lymphocytes from hypersensitive and healthy persons, Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Sep;113(9):1172-7 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
5. P Belyaev IY et al, (April 2005) 915 MHz microwaves and 50 Hz magnetic field affect chromatin conformation and 53BP1 foci in human lymphocytes from hypersensitive and healthy persons, Bioelectromagnetics. 2005 Apr;26(3):173-84 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
6. P Salford L et al, (June 2003) Nerve cell damage in mammalian brain after exposure to microwaves from GSM mobile phones, Environ Health Perspect 2003 Jun;111(7):881-3; discussion A408 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]