• Mayuri Vaish

How mobile radiation affects the brain

There is a large body of evidence to suggest that cell phone usage can alter the neurochemistry of the brain and increase the likelihood of tumour onset; However, the overall evidence is mixed and the ecological validity, as well as generalizability, of existing research is limited.


Research has suggested that the electromagnetic radiation released from cell phones disrupts the levels of dopamine, serotonin (both responsible for pleasure and reward), and norepinephrine (controls alertness); These may be responsible for the difficulties in learning, memory and increased stress as a result of cellphone use.[1]


Similarly, exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) for up to one hour daily showed significant changes in GABA and glycine (inhibitory neurotransmitters) in the medulla (controls autonomic functions, such as heart rate and breathing). Moreover, levels of glutamate and aspartate (both excitatory) decreased in the brain. This suggests the depression of neural activity due to cell phone usage.[2]


Further evidence suggests that cell phone usage leads to an increase in brain metabolism[3]. It was also shown that superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and malondialdehyde (all enzymes that counter oxidative cell stress) were significantly altered upon exposure to cell phone microwaves from 30 to 60 minutes. Concurrent with prior research, it also found lowered dopamine and norepinephrine levels after exposure to screen radiation.[4] This has been supported by a further review, revealing that microwaves can amplify the effects of Reactive Oxygen Species, which cause cell stress and eventual cell death.[5] Moreover, research indicated the upregulation of apoptotic (cell death) genes in neurons when exposed to mobile radiation[6]. It has also shown to modify brain excitability (i.e, ability to become depolarized and ‘fire’).[7]

Alarmingly, a review of all studies from 1986–2016 showed a significant positive correlation between cellphone use and glioma (a type of brain tumor) risk, with long-term mobile use increasing glioma likelihood by 2.22 times[8]. Another paper found mixed results for brain tumor: no significant correlation for <10 years of mobile use, but a 1.33 times greater risk for >10 years (long-term) mobile use.[9]However, another review paper revealed that neural disruptions caused by cellphone usage are small, and of greater importance are cell phone’s direct effects, e.g. traffic accidents or stress.[10]


With regards to EEG usage, mobile phones placed on the ear (but not on the chest) significantly altered brain waves (alpha, beta, theta, gamma) in EEG recordings.[11]


Moreover, cell phone usage has led to the development of ‘Smart Phone Dependence’ (SPD) in young adults and teens. Studies have found decreased white matter in the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), superior corona radiata (SCR), internal capsule, external capsule, sagittal stratum, fornix/stria terminalis and midbrain structures; Moreover, certain abnormalities of these correlated with severity of the dependence - thus suggesting that mobile dependence produce brain structural deficits.[12]

Conversely, however, mobile phone use has evidenced to have no significant impact on cognitive ability.[13]


Nevertheless, one major criticism of this research is that a large body of it studies the waves produced by phones themselves, rather than commercial actual mobile use[14]; Moreover, several pieces of research were conducted on mice and thus may not apply to humans.

In all, the evidence is mixed, but yes, there is quite a bit of research suggesting some alterations, even if not at a large scale, in the neurochemistry of the brain.


So, by all means, don’t purge cell phones from your life, but be wary of utilising it for extensive periods (over 30 minutes to 1 hour a day), and of placing it directly on the ear. It would also suffice to perhaps devote some days per year to exclude cell phone access entirely.

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