Are Cell Phones Dangerous to Your Health? | Chris Kresser
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Are Cell Phones Dangerous to Your Health?

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There’s growing concern over the potential adverse health effects of long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell phones. Should you be concerned?

are cell phones dangerous
If you use a cell phone, you may not be aware of the potential danger it poses. iStock.com/Ridofranz

If you’re reading this, chances are good you own a cell phone. In fact, it’s probably in your pocket right now, or at least within easy reach. You might even be reading this article on your smart phone.

Twenty years ago, cell phones were still somewhat of a novelty, mildly cumbersome, and were most decidedly “dumb,” with screens just large enough to display a phone number. Now, 90 percent of American adults own a cell phone, and well over half have a smart phone. (1) The question is, what effectif anydoes this have on our health?

In this article, I’ll look at the two most well-researched health conditions associated with cell phone use: male infertility and brain cancer.

Can Cell Phones Cause Infertility?

Several epidemiological studies have found an association between cell phone use and male infertility and decreased sperm quality. For example, a study published in 2008 found that of 361 men attending an infertility clinic, participants who used a cell phone more frequently had lower sperm count, motility, and viability, and had more sperm with abnormal structure. (2) Two other studies also found a higher percentage of abnormal sperm in men who used a cell phone. (3, 4)

Animal experiments have also been conducted to better determine whether a cause-and-effect relationship exists, and what the mechanism might be. Studies where rodents were exposed to cell phone radiation have found decreased sperm motility and abnormal structure, as well as increased DNA damage and oxidative stress. (5) For example, rats exposed to an active cell phone for just one hour per day for four weeks exhibited reduced sperm motility and increased oxidative stress compared to controls who were exposed to a cell phone without batteries for the same period of time. (6)

Is your cell phone habit harming your health? #infertility #cancer

On the other hand, a different experiment found that young rats actually exhibited better sperm motility and structure following exposure to cell phone radiation, which is opposite of what other studies have found. (7) It’s also important to note that animal research doesn’t generalize to humans particularly well in this case. Due to differences in structure of the testes, the doses of radiation used likely have a much larger effect on the animals than it would on humans.

Researchers have also conducted experiments on human semen samples by exposing half of a given sample to cell phone radiation, and keeping the other half as a control. Exposed samples had higher levels of oxidation, as well as decreased sperm motility and viability. (8, 9)

Several thorough reviews and a couple meta-analyses have been conducted over the past decade to summarize the research on cell phones and reproductive health. (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16) In general, the authors come to the same conclusion: that a significant amount of evidence does indicate that cell phone radiation could be harmful to male reproductive health, but that the study designs are inconsistent, often not reproducible, and don’t always adequately control for confounding variables. That said, there’s enough concerning preliminary evidence to warrant caution and further investigation.

Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer?

Cancer is another topic that has garnered significant attention from the public with regards to cell phone safety. After all, when most people hear the word “radiation,” they probably think of DNA-zapping, cancer-causing ionizing radiation, like gamma rays or x-rays. So it’s important to keep in mind that microwave radiationthe frequency used by cell phones (and microwave ovens)is non-ionizing, and is actually a lower frequency than UV rays or even visible light.

Because of its low frequency, cell phone radiation does not have the energy necessary to break molecular bonds, so it can’t directly cause cancer by mutating DNA like other types of radiation can.

In-vitro and animal research reflects this—cell phone radiation was not found to cause or promote cancer in isolated human cells or in rodents. (17, 18, 19) But we still have to consider the other effects that cell phone radiation could have on the body, and whether those effects could increase the risk of cancer long-term.

For example, as I mentioned in the previous section, some evidence indicates that cell phone radiation increases oxidative stress in cells, which can lead to DNA damage. Several studies have found increased DNA damage in the brain cells of rats after exposure to cell phones, and since the effect was blocked by antioxidant administration, it’s likely that oxidative stress was the cause. (20) But many animal studies have also found no increase in DNA damage following exposure to cell phone radiation, so experimental evidence remains equivocal. (21)

One of the few human studies involving cell phone exposure found that when two cell phones, one active and one inactive, were placed on either side of a participant’s head for 50 minutes, glucose metabolism increased on the side of the brain exposed to the active phone. (22) This study got a lot of attention, but a subsequent study came up with opposite results, where glucose metabolism decreased on the side of the brain exposed to cell phone radiation. (23) Regardless, the clinical implications of these results (if any) are unknown.

Epidemiological evidence is also inconclusive. The WHO has classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” primarily based on a couple observational studies that found associations between cell phone use and brain cancer. (24) The first one, the Hardell study conducted in Sweden, was a case-control study that matched each “case” (a person with brain cancer) to a “control” (a person as similar as possible to the case, but without cancer).

They published their results in several papers, reporting an increased risk for brain cancer in people who used cell phones, particularly cancers occurring on the same side of the head that the phone was used on. (25, 26, 27, 28) Risk increased with increasing time spent on the phone, and was highest in people who started using a cell phone before age 20.

The second studythe INTERPHONE studycollected case-control data from 13 different countries, and in contrast to the Hardell study, found no association between cell phone use and brain cancer aside from a small association at the highest level of cell phone use. (29, 30) The authors (as well as two reviews published soon after) concluded that overall, the current data doesn’t support a causal association. (31, 32) But another long-term epidemiological study published later added more evidence supporting a connection, so the case is far from closed. (33)

So, Is My Cell Phone Harming My Health?

The bottom line is that we don’t know. As you’ve seen, there’s quite a bit of research on the safety of cell phones, but the results have been varied and inconclusive. Additionally, the biological mechanisms by which cell phone radiation could cause these adverse health effects are only just beginning to be understood, and until a clear mechanism exists, we can’t draw any conclusions from the epidemiological data we have.

That said, there’s enough concerning preliminary evidence to warrant caution. In a way, we’ve all unwittingly become part of an uncontrolled population-wide experiment on cell phone safety, and the precautionary principle applies: we don’t know that it’s harmful, but it makes sense to take reasonable measures to reduce exposure in case it is.

It’s also important to note that children absorb more cell phone radiation than adults do, because they have thinner skin and bones and a higher water content in their tissues. (34, 35) With that in mind, it’s probably best to limit your child’s exposure to wireless devices like cell phones. (Not to mention the potential adverse effects of too much screen time on children’s attention spans, focus, and cognitive development.)

So instead of holding your iPhone to your ear for that two-hour call, try plugging in ear buds so you can set your phone on the table next to you. If you’re a guy, get in the habit of carrying your phone in a backpack, or putting it in airplane mode while it’s in your pocket. And unless you’re expecting a call, perhaps consider leaving your phone in another room or in your bag. If nothing else, your concentration and connection to the real world will likely benefit from not having your blinking, buzzing cell phone as a constant companion.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. Are you concerned about the long-term effects of cell phone use? Have you taken steps to limit your exposure? Comment below and let me know. 

101 Comments

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  1. Thank you chris for the useful knowledge. This has really been a huge help for my case study. In my opinion mobile phones are VERY bad for your health. As a librarian I like to stick to books. Much love xxx

    • I know this is almost a year ago, and I do know how it feels to lose someone, so I feel for you. But like suggested in this article and various other studies, it is inconclusive as to whether phones cause cancer. In my personal opinion, they do not cause cancer as the microwaves are non-ionizing. Most studies that suggest that, in fact, they do cause cancer started research after the person got disgnosed.

  2. Hi Chris,
    What do you think of cases designed to reduce EMF exposure? Do you think they’re helpful? Pong cases seem to be the most popular, but I’ve tried a few.

  3. This article was good to get people interested in the subject at a general level Chris, but I assume those wants to dig deeper than this.

    I’ve had Dr. Jack Kruse on my podcast several times and they are some of the most downloaded episodes of all time as we discuss the reason that Russia does not have an Apple corporation, what EMF really does and more about EMF hypersensitivity.

    At a minimum you should be turning off your WiFi at night and choosing to fly on airlines that do NOT have WiFi as the combined increase in radiation from high altitudes and WiFi is not something to take chances with, regardless of the lack of conclusive science.

    Earbuds don’t fix the problem either, so nix that recommendation. An “Air Tube” headset is the only viable option to reduce the EMF exposure from a cell phone. Regular earbuds are essentially antennas from the phone to your head.

    • There seems to be allot of experts here that do not have a background in this field. The Air tube is definitely the best bet for total isolation because plastic does not conduct EMF. That is the premise that is being used to promote the ear tubes but unfortunately under false pretenses. I have measured the difference between ear tubes and ear buds, there is practically no difference if one know how to measure properly. This was a field that I worked in for many years. Just because the ear buds have wire it doesn’t mean that those wires will conduct that particular frequency. The wires for the ears buds are not the proper length and they actually impede the EMF do to their impedance at the cell frequencies. Ear buds are 100 times more effective then using the phone next to your ear, even better is to just hold the phone 18 inches or so from you and use the speaker phone.

  4. I ran into a chap a few years ago and learned that he was a flight steward who hailed from my home country (Sarawak). He told me that he was going on a round-the-world tour and told me why he was doing that. Sometime before making that decision, he was found unconscious in some place and had to be hospitalized. They ran a check on him and found a malignant brain tumor and the doc said he has only 6 months left … Apparently, he used his cellphone a lot. Tragic… he was only 28 yrs old!!

  5. I think the two suggestions in the last paragraph are good advice. Limit the duration of exposure and add a bit of distance between you and the device.

  6. As i was reading the comment section in my lounge, my ipad rang because its connected to my phone which was sitting next to my bed…

    then i noticed my laptop wifi signal blink, while the blue tooth was connected to my speakers playing some music…

    All the while i can see a phone tower in the distance through my window…

    It just makes me think…

    • Try out antennasearch.com and see how many towers are within a 4 mile radius of your address.

      When I first moved to Austin, TX, I lived on the third floor looking face to face at a cell tower. My sleep was awful, I had anxiety issues, irritability, digestive issues and more. A search revealed over 400 towers within that radius!

      When my wife and I moved out towards the hills and reduced our exposure to about 60 towers, symptoms went away with no other variables changing.

  7. As I have stated in my last post along with my video on EMF exposure that the main cause of issues from EMF exposure is Stress from prolonged exposure at high levels. Please research concerning the earths natural resonance frequency of 7.83 HZ. There is allot of information on the net concerning this natural frequency. This frequency is the product of lightning strikes and the cavity between the earth and the ionosphere. It is real and has been measured even more recently by NASA. This 7.83 hz was the only frequency that man was exposed to before the invention on electricity. Keep in mind that the level of this 7.83hz is very low as it propagates around the globe. This frequency is also the center of the brain wave frequencies. If one thinks common sense wise it is easy to see that all the high levels frequencies that we are now immersed in are drowning out the only frequency that we should be exposed to. Your body and brain are being pulled off the natural frequency in which humans evolved. So the answer is to remove and distance yourself as much as possible from the EMF pollutants. Remember distance from any EMF generating device is a exponential function, so the levels drop off very fast per distance. My stucco home with wire under the stucco and UV protected glass widows shield us fairly well. I leave you here with allot to think about.

  8. Great article as usual Chris.

    We recently wrote on this subject of cell phones as well, however from a different slant. We dive into whether cell phones increase our risk of tooth decay by disrupting the hypothalamus/parotid gland pathway which is the body’s primary method of maintaining a mouth free from tooth decay.

    Here’s a link… http://www.orawellness.com/blog/is-your-cell-phone-causing-your-teeth-to-decay/

    Perhaps more importantly, we share a technique from the Chinese longevity arts to help clear the head of toxic emfs. It’s a free video tutorial on the article.

    We hope this helps others navigate their path toward optimal oral health.

    Aloha!

  9. Chris, I love you, man. But, on this one you gotta really step up your game. It’s real simple:

    1) In the movie “Take Back Your Power”: Didn’t you see the little aphids next to the smart meter do their little “dance” ever single time the meter jolted out its unhealthy signal? EVERY TIME. 100% of the time. Do they care what the stupid “peer-reviewed” studies say. No. They were not getting ionizing radiation DIRECTLY to their DNA, true…but they were still getting effected in DIFFERENT ways. UNNATURAL!

    2) Humans are ELECTRICAL beings FIRST. The communication paths, directions for organ function, brain activity, etc. All ELECTRICAL activity underlying the rest of the functions. Central Nervous System is CENTRAL, protected by things like a thick skull, hard vertebrae, etc because it’s the MOST important. Oh, you say CHEMICAL is just as important? Well, chemical IS electrical. The chemical reactions INCLUDE the electrical activity of changes at the electron levels. Similarly, the body will do ANYTHING to protect the pH level of the fluids (blood, intracellular, etc). Well, what’s pH? “Potential for Hydrogen.” What’s that? It’s the ELECTRICALLY charged function of hydrogen…namely: ELECTRONS. Etc etc etc. If you think that all our unnatural electronic gadgets and environments don’t mess with our delicate electrical systems (and our animals, plants, etc) then you are a fool and there’s no amount of evidence that will convince you…until YOU or your kids or pets get REAL SICK someday. Diabetes 3? Stay fat no matter what you do? ADHD in your kids bouncing off the walls all day? Totally unexplained mental/emotional issues correlating to certain geographical environments only? Sterility? Etc.

    3) Speaking of, what about the THOUSANDS of people that get real sick NOW? What about when they get rid of their stupid gadgets, WiFi routers, Bluetooth, etc and immediately get BETTER? Coincidence? No, because they can bring them back near, and get sick. Take them away, and get better. They can even tell you when the devices, or bldg circuits, or towers are on with extremely high levels of predictability and accuracy. Far MORE than any of the stupid “peer-reviewed” BS studies (statistics are a numbers GAME).

    4) I have given up on people to have any intelligence.
    A) I sincerely hope that all of you that are even remotely concerned about this topic stop exposing yourself to this harmful EMF. It’s REAL!
    B) I hope that the rest of you nay-sayers BATHE yourselves in it. In one or two generations will have the gene pool much much cleaner. As long as my tax-dollars don’t have to pay for your stupid medical costs long-term, I couldn’t be happier that you FILTER YOURSELF OUT of our already stupid-enough human race. Please stream Netflix to your phone 24/7 ! Get two phones! Sleep with them on each side of your head ALL night, and keep them in your front pants pockets ALL day. I’ll give you my old phones, batteries, and chargers!

    It will all work itself out, one way or another. Survival of the WISEST. Just do your best keep the people at your job, neighborhood, city, in the FCC and corporations, etc from wrecking YOUR environment and health in the meantime with millions of “hotspots.” If an EMP goes off someday and takes out the electrical grid long-term, it might become the HEALTHIEST some of us ever end up being afterwards! Maybe not so bad after all (assuming you can get over your Angry Birds withdrawal and work on a garden instead…)

    • All those CAPITALS must mean there is something really important being said here. Good to know.

      • People simply don’t read anything unless you make it jump out at them. I was simply denoting EMPHASIS, since I don’t see an HTML toolbar with this here comment box, and I’m not a good coder otherwise.

    • Geez lots of passion in the last comment, but very true. People that don’t believe the harm will never believe no matter what!

  10. Going through the comments column, I noticed no one mentioned Dr Jack Kruse view of the much more ways the current EMF soup we live in. He connected Quantum Physics to living biology. Now I am very concerned. Anyone curious enough just go to his site and see if he talks sense. I am only a family doctor and I know very little in the subject of Physics. His site is here.
    https://www.jackkruse.com/quantum-biology-1-the-zero-entropy-system/

    • I’m not a physicist and I haven’t read all of his website, but the zero entropy state sounds off to me. Also, receiving photons from the sun to “power” our semiconductor systems (I believe he’s talking about collagen and bone) could use some substantiation. Just my thoughts

      • Hi Chase. Here is Dr Gerald Pollack on the Fourth Phase of Water TED talk where he too refers to energy not only from the Sun, ie photons but even infrared radiation powering our cell’s functions. See for yourself.

    • I went to that site and I read it. Coincidently I have also just finished Stephen Hawking’s book “A brief history of time”. Both are almost impossible to understand! I would say (just for myself) that if one studied each publication for about three months we would have a general idea of the subjects – there are many details about which one has to revise one’s knowledge.
      I went to Jack Kruse’s site because I think it is very important when someone from a different discipline steps into another field at such a deep level. I think we are very lucky when we get a view from another aspect. I think in particular and never cease to marvel that DNA was mapped by Crick and Watson, neither of them biologists. It makes you think that if you apply your mind to anything, not just what you did at university, then you can achieve just about anything.
      But to answer your question, I do not know yet if he is talking sense – but he does sound a bit of a Sheldon Cooper.

  11. Re ‘WI-FI, a Thalidomide in the making’, just enter that in the search engine; similarly, ‘Cordless Phones Health Risks + emf news’ & ‘Blue tube headset dangers + emf news’.
    Any one who is interested (and, whether you use a cell-phone or not, you ought to be, because (just like ‘passive smoking’, you’ll get it one way or the other) we and ours are all exposed to it, just search ‘cell-phone (or whatever) dangers’.
    And as well as neonicotinides, microwave radiation is another reason for bee decline,

    • Whether you buy this idea or not, I’m going to tell you about it so you can decide for yourself. I agree cell phones and likely cordless (and who knows what else) are likely not safe. However, at least with cell phones, I have heard of a way to largely mitigate the danger from the waves the eminate–a way I haven’t heard talked about in the popular (or unpopular) press although Dr. Mercola mentioned a headset of some kind: But I am talking aboutdiodes. That are stickable diodes you can put on the back of your phone to lessen the harmful emissions from the phone. The trick is finding the one that’s best for your phone. Perhaps there is a scientific way to do this, because despite what some diode sellers say, I don’t think the same diode will help every phone. There must be a way to measure what waves are needing to be modified and find the proper diode to suit that need. Some diodes may be useless with some phones. Well. it is more food for thought.

      • My background is in EMF, I truly believe that this diode thing is nothing but Snake Oil.
        Beware there are allot of predators out there proclaiming solutions like this.

      • The best thing you can do that actually works is to keep at least a 2 foot distance from you to the phone whenever making or receiving a call. The most effective way is a wired headset or hands free. I only use my phone hands free 100% of the time.

  12. Sorry, some links are broken. I’ll find a way of directing ya’ll to the sites…
    Watch this space!

  13. Of course cell phones must be safe! That’s probably why cell phone manufacturers have clauses in the ‘small print’ (extremely small, and hidden in the depths of your cell phone ‘info’) absolving them from liability in case of harm – bit like Monsanto’s ‘absolutely safe’ GMO Frankenfoods having a ‘no liability’ status granted on them by the ‘revolving door’ Govt. agencies.
    As a previous commenter has pointed out, HUGE amounts of money are involved, and others have pointed out that it is extremely important that the ‘studies’ are completely independent and free of Corporation funding; he who pays the piper calls the tune.
    Check out Barrie Trower’s ‘‘WI-FI, a Thalidomide in the making’ & Barrie Trower – ‘Danger – Tetra – Microwave Radiation’:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs6dX5QJKCM .
    There was until fairly recently a website called ‘Bevolution’ with a lot of Barrie Trower’s video interviews on it; it seems to have been removed, doubtless at the instigation of the ‘PTB’. But if the above links interest you, just search for Barrie Trower’s stuff.
    Here are another couple of links: Cordless Phones Health Risks : http://www.emfnews.org/Car-Radiation-
    Blue tube headset : http://www.emfnews.org/mret-technolog
    It’s really not ‘Rocket Science’ to figure out this increasing microwave radiation we are all exposed to is not likely to be ‘benign’, but Barrie brings a needed expertise into the equation.

  14. What about hand cancer in chronic texters?

    If cellular and wifi show an effect on human physiology then the obvious confounder is fm and am radio waves which have been around much longer and are much more ubiquitous.

    Then you also have cosmic background microwave radiation which permeates the entire universe.

    The types of people traditionally using cellular phones were those in high stress , demanding professions.

    We have to think about risk , anything useful with the power to create , transport or connect. Carries some measure of risk.

    is using a cell phone safer than driving ?

    is driving while using a cellphone safer than drinking moderate amounts of alcohol?

    Is heavy weight training safer than texting while driving drunk?

    Is a bath tub safer than a swimming pool?

  15. Here’s more on the subject from professor Olle Johansson of Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who was on the panel for WHO that determined the classification of emf, which includes all wireless devices such as cell and cordless phones, smart meters and wifi: https://ca-mg6.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.rand=4ae90psqtabqq# Dr. Johansson believes that a moratorium should be put on the dissemination of these devices until they can be proven once and for all to be safe. He is presently studying the correlation between facial cancer of babies and cell phone use.

    • A point to consider. In receive mode, most smartphones release a small blip of transmitted power once every few hours. This just to confirm connection to the grid. This amount of electromagnetic energy is small compared to what everyone comes into contact in daily life. Surface currents of AC, various devices such as switches and common items like toasters give off EM fields too.
      That said, during transmission, there is more EM, but all applications are not the same. Receiving a signal, even streaming requires little transmitted power, more like a radio. Video-conferencing on the other hand requires continuous transmissions. Another point. The further the phone is from the servicing cell tower, the higher the phone will nudge up the power. In weak service areas the phone operates at maximum.

  16. I want to see more research on the cumulative effects of cell phones, increasingly more powerful cell towers, smart meters, WiFi, and any other EMF emitting devices that surround most of us now. The level of exposure we are all swimming in compared to 50 years ago is insane. At the cellular and DNA level, I think we are all extremely vulnerable. Besides moving to the Arctic, what we can do to protect ourselves?

    To find out about towers or antennae in your area: http://www.antennasearch.com/sitestart.asp

    • Good point and I’d add cordless phones to your list. We got rid of all of our cordless phones and are back to good-ole push-button, corded phones, one in each room. It was an adjustment but now I barely notice. Cordless phones (the base station) apparently radiate 24/7, even when not in use.

      • Most cordless phones do not radiate at all until the talk button is pushed, I have measured this to be true. Cordless phones radiate even higher levels then cell phones so using a cordless phone in the speaker mode is the best thing to do. A cordless phone 1.5 feet from you is a safe EMF level. Using it at your head is not advisable. See my You Tube video posted on this conversation.

        • You claim you’ve had a background in EMF. Since I know little about it, my frustration has always been in determining which items are actually producers. You say you’ve had experience measuring it. Can you please comment on the following items if you have measured them:
          1) Earbuds vs Large Headphones. Sure, they don’t have a cell signal, but do they have anything electrical that some speculate may be offensive?
          2) Various sized monitors. I work in front of one all day, non negotiable. Is this a potential danger? It’s quite large too, if that makes a difference.
          3) Wifi signals. Is this completely different than EMF and a non factor? I’m bathing in over a dozen neighboring wifi signals I can connect to, 24-7.
          4) Being a few hundred feet from power cables, can you actually hold a measuring device in your hand that can detect a potentially offensive signal?

          Lastly…. where in blazes can a guy get a simply priced EMF/whatever radiation measuring device so he can simply check and correct his home against safe numbers, erring on the side of caution? … I’m a simple man. Thank you

    • Thank you so much for that link. I have often wondered how much radiation we are getting in my neck of the woods, now I know, many thanks.