Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Constantly Connected Cell Phone Use: Brain or Boom?

Are cell phones safe? A long-standing debate exists about whether or not extensive cell phone use is possibly related to rare brain tumors, though many major medical groups have concluded that cell phones are safe. As technology progresses and cell phones become small portable computers to which we find ourselves constantly connected to, it's important to ask ourselves whether research is conclusive on this issue.

According to a recent New York Times article,
Researchers [from the National Institutes of Health] tested 47 people by placing a cell phone at each ear. After 50 minutes, brain scans showed increased consumption of glucose, or sugar, in areas of the brain near the activated phone.

This study is among the first to discover that weak radio-frequency signals from cell phones have the potential to alter brain activity. It remains unclear whether these signals have beneficial or detrimental impacts. The point is that cell phone use is affecting the brain. One theory about how an artificial increase in brain glucose metabolism could be harmful is that it could act as a catalyst for the creation of molecules called free radicals, which can damage healthy cells. Another theory is that repeated stimulation by electromagnetic radiation could cause an inflammatory response, which studies suggest can cause health problems, including cancer. These theories thus suggest that extensive cell phone use may have seriously detrimental effects on health.

In truth, there are everyday situations in which the overstimulation of the brain, as provided by cell phone use, may play a role. In addition to possible connections between cell phone use and health problems as significant as cancer, there are also probable connections between overstimulation of the brain and sleep disturbance. The concept of sleep deprivation occurring when lights are left on (even small power lights on devices), or when our cell phones are resting by our head as we [attempt to] sleep, is a belief held by many. Effects may not always be negative, though. Dr. Volkow, interviewed for the same New York Times article, explains that future research may show that the electromagnetic waves emitted from cell phones could be used to therapeutically stimulate the brain.

Ultimately, more research needs to be conducted in order to determine conclusively whether constant connectivity by cell phone use detrimentally affects the brain. Personally, I feel that while an increase in brain glucose isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's also probably not a good thing. Will I use my cell phone any less? No. Will I opt for the impersonal means of text messaging? No way! However, I feel more aware now of how much time I spend talking/listening directly on or from my cell phone.

It's frightening to think that something that we are so dependent on may potentially be harmful for us. What exactly are we doing to ourselves when we employ such technology? Even scarier is the thought that an entire generation is glued to their devices, with children being introduced to cell phone technology at a younger age than the previous generation. OUR MINDS ARE BEING ALTERED-LITERALLY! For the time being, those of us who remain skeptical about cell phone use not negatively affecting the brain are advised to use a headset or earpiece every now and then to alleviate concern. Thankfully, I rely heavily on my headset, though I hope that research in a few years won't show that headsets also cause brain damage. So it remains to be seen whether relying heavily on such technology is "brainy," or if it causes for a mental/physical "boom" that is negative. What do you think?

For your consideration, Christina Breitenbuecher posted a similar article on Monday, February 28th. She also addresses the possible health issues associated with constant connectivity via extensive phone use.

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