Cellular Phone Use Increases Brain Glucose Metabolism

There are reportedly almost five billion cellular phones users worldwide and there are growing concerns regarding the negative health effects generated by these portable but useful devices. Experts have speculated that cell phones emit radiofrequency waves that can affect the brain. The aim of this study was to look at how cell phone use affects the brain’s capacity for utilizing sugar. The results showed that glucose utilization was the same when the cellular phone was switched both off and on. However, glucose metabolism was higher in areas of the brain that lie closest to the cellular phone antenna when it was powered on.

There is a sharp rise in the use of cellular phone and experts have cited earlier literature that say that cellular phones give out radio waves that may lead to brain damage. Although speculations have been made connecting brain tumors to cellular phone use, there have been no concrete studies conducted. Some studies have tried to assess if the blood flow in the brain was affected by cellular phone use, but the results have been inconclusive. However, it is shown in earlier studies that brain activities are determined by the amount of sugar it utilizes at various parts. This study was planned to look into the specific effects of cell phone induced radio waves on brain glucose utilization and metabolism. The authors concluded, “In healthy participants and compared with no exposure, 50-minute cell phone exposure was associated with increased brain glucose metabolism in the region closest to the antenna. This finding is of unknown clinical significance.”

* The study was conducted on 47 healthy volunteers over a period of one year (2009).
* The participants were made to sit in a chair and asked to stay awake with a cell phone over each ear, tied with the help of a muffler.
* They underwent two brain scans for 50 minutes each with the mobile phones switched on and off. The scans detected the glucose utilization in various parts of the brain.

* Results showed that the total brain glucose utilization did not change whether the mobile phone was on or off.
* Glucose metabolism in the regions closest to the antenna was higher in the “on”state as compared to the “off” state. The difference of glucose metabolism between on and off conditions was 2.4 µmol/100 g per minute.
* The results also showed that areas of the brain that take in the maximum amount of radio waves also showed the maximum amount of glucose utilization.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that they only found increased glucose utilization in areas exposed to radio waves of mobile phones. They did verify that this was harmful. This study does not clarify the reason why exposed areas use more glucose than others. The authors speculate that this may be due to excitation of the nerves but state that further studies are necessary.

This study found that radio waves from cellular phones increased glucose metabolism in exposed parts of the brain. This change is seen with 50 minute exposure of the brain to a cellular phone in the “on” state. However, long term studies on brain damage due to this increased glucose metabolism is warranted in order to be able to draw a concrete clinical conclusion. With the rise of cellular phone use and alleged association between high use and brain tumors, such studies are necessary to clarify the exact pathophysiology. With results from studies like these, cellular phone use cannot be condemned to cause harm to the brain until further evidence.

For More Information:
Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism
Publication Journal: JAMA, February 2011
By Nora D. Volkow, MD; Dardo Tomasi, PhD; National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Maryland and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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