When cell phones first came out, when they started replacing land lines and oh-so-technologically-advanced car phones, a lot of rumors started spreading about their safety. Some people thought they would slowly poison people.

Others thought they might eschew subtlety and just fry a brain like an egg. As cell phones became more popular, and their users didn't drop like flies, the rumors abated. Perhaps they were just the result of reflexive fear of new technology. Maybe cell phones did nothing an ordinary phone wouldn't. A new study shows, however, that holding a cell phone close to a person's head does have an effect on the brain.


Top image: CNET.

Scientists asked volunteers to strap a pair of cell phones to their heads - one phone pressed to each ear. The phone on one side was turned off, while the phone on the other side recorded a voicemail message. The recording phone was set on mute, so neither phone made a sound. After fifty very monotonous minutes of listening to one phone that was muted and another phone that was turned off, the volunteers got a PET scan.


The PET scan showed a rise in glucose metabolism levels on the side of the head that was pressed to the working phone. Glucose is the staple food of bodily cells. The brain cells showed an increase of glucose metabolism of seven percent. That percentage indicates that the cells in those parts of the brain were burning the energy. They were active. The glucose metabolism in the cells near the ear 'listening' to a non-functioning cell phone remained unchanged.

This study shows that brain cells do respond to the electromagnetic radiation put out by cell phones, but so far there is no indication of what this response means. Are people frying their brains? Some people, including one of the coauthors of the study, is all for limiting time on the cell phone or using speaker phone. On the other hand, isn't it good to use brain cells? Perhaps the wave of the future is sleeping with cell phones strapped to each ear to boost brain power. And even if either possibility is true, how much cell phone use makes a difference? The study leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Image: JAMA.

Via Science News.