Brain studies get more interest in the media, because the brain is truly one of the last great unknowns of the human body. While our understanding of the brain has made great strides in the past few decades, we still have only very basic and rudimentary knowledge of this important organ. Honestly, researchers still aren’t quite sure how the brain even works.
When you consider where we are with our understanding of the brain’s basic functions, you have to take studies that use brain imagery with a healthy grain of salt. The consumption of sugar by the brain is thought to indicate important brain activity, but it’s a correlational association that researchers have documented.
The latest “gee whiz!” brain study showed that when you put a muted cell phone next to someone’s ear for 50 minutes while they were sitting in a positron emission tomography — or PET — scan machine. Even though the cell phone was on mute so the participants couldn’t hear the phone call, there was a 7 percent increase in activity (as measured by blood glucose levels) in the area closest to the cell phone’s antenna.
What does this mean?
Honestly, nobody knows. Let’s look at the pretty pictures:
There’s speculation that this could be somehow related to the cell phone’s reception and radiation — that the radiation emitted by the cell phone is causing this slight increase in brain activity. (To ensure the activity wasn’t just related to holding a cell phone to your ear, the researchers also tested brain activity when the cell phones were turned off. They found no similar brain activity increase.)
Cellphones emit nonionizing radiation, waves of energy that are too weak to break chemical bonds or to set off the DNA damage known to cause cancers. Scientists have said repeatedly that there is no known biological mechanism to explain how nonionizing radiation might lead to cancer or other health problems.
But the new study opens up an entirely new potential area of research. Although an increase in brain glucose metabolism happens during normal brain function, the question is whether repeated artificial stimulation as a result of exposure to electromagnetic radiation might have a detrimental effect.
This is the kind of research that gives other researchers some ideas for their own future studies to measure cell phone safety. It’s good building-block research.
But it’s not the kind of research that should be given as much attention as it has in the mainstream media because the results of this small study — just 47 participants — can’t be generalized into any type of actionable information. We don’t even know what the results really mean.
You shouldn’t stop using your cell phone because of a study like this. All it tells us is that cell phones may be having more of an impact next to our head — at least during really long phone calls — than researchers previously realized. Only future research can tell us what — if anything — this means to our health.
Read the full article: Cellphone Use Tied to Brain Changes
Images courtesy of JAMA.