In just a few decades, cellphones have totally taken over our lives. When was the last time you had to pull a map out of the glove compartment to navigate somewhere? Or had to stand out in the rain to hail a cab?
But are our devices completely safe? Are potential cellphone health impacts something to worry about?
We haven’t been using cellphones long enough to fully study long-term impacts or conclude that using them definitively causes specific diseases. But then again, it took decades to prove a surefire link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, too.
Possible Cellphone Health Impacts
Now, I’m not suggesting we all ditch our phones. But the following findings may give you reasons to take some commonsense safety precautions to minimize your risk.
Cellphones emit non-ionizing radiation, which are radio waves known as a type of electromagnetic radiation. We do know that human tissue closest to cellphone antennas absorb some of this energy. (1)
While studies linking cellphone use to brain cancer bring mixed results, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society did give credence to a particular research project. In 2016, the U.S. National Toxicology Program released data related to the agency’s large-scale, $25 million study investigating cellphone use and cancer risk. The results? Very high signal cellphone radiation did result in a slightly increased risk of malignant gliomas in the brain. Risk of schwannomas, rare tumors that develop on the nerve sheath of the heart, also increased with cellphone use. As the dose of radiation increased, so did cancer risk. (2, 3)
The World Health Organization listed cellphone radiation as a 2B carcinogen in 2011. That classification means cellphone radiation is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” (4)
Medical literature does suggest that beginning cellphone use during teenage years results in a four-to-five times higher risk of a brain cancer diagnosis. (5)
In a first-of-its-kind study published in the Oman Medical Journal,researchers found students who moderately and heavily used cellphones in talk mode experienced a significant alteration to thyroid stimulating hormone levels. (Higher than normal TSH levels, and low average T4 levels were observed.) That may not seem like a big deal, except that even tiny changes to thyroid hormone levels can alter brain function. The study authors say “based on these results, it may be concluded that electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones may cause some detrimental effects on thyroid function.” (6)
Cellphone radiation may trigger negative effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary thyroid axis, throwing off normal thyroid hormone levels. (7) However, a 2016 study published in International Radiation Biology found no link between cellphone electromagnetic radiation and thyroid cancer. (8)
Men, please think twice about keeping your cellphone in your pocket or clipped to your belt. Sperm of men exposed to cellphone radiation die three times faster than those unexposed to the radiation. The sperm also experience three times the level of mitochondrial DNA damage, too. Not good news for men’s health or fertility. (9)
Cellphone Health: Protect Yourself
When it comes to cellphone radiation, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You can drastically reduce your exposure without giving up your device. Here are some common-sense tips:
- Text instead of talking whenever possible, and use speaker mode or use a hands-free kit when you do make calls.
- When talking on your cellphone, hold it an inch or more away from your head.
- Make only short or essential calls on cellphones.
- Avoid carrying your phone against the body, like in a pocket sock or bra.
- Don’t talk on the phone or text while driving.
- If you plan to watch a movie on your device, download it first, then switch to airplane mode while you watch.
- If you can, avoid making calls when you have a weaker signal. Radiation is higher when your bars are lower.
- Avoid making calls in cars, elevators, trains and buses. Cellphones work harder to push a signal through metal, so radiation increases.
- Keep cellphones away from children and out of their mouths. (10)
Final Thoughts on Cellphone Health Threats
- We’ve only been heavily using cellphones since the 1990s. That’s not enough time to get a full scope of potential long-term health impacts in humans. Remember, it took decades to draw a conclusive link between lung cancer and cigarette smoking.
- Studies linking cellphones to cancer, particularly brain cancer, are mixed. But several recent well-designed studies suggests cellphone use could slightly increase the risk of certain types of brain cancers.
- Electromagnetic radiation from cellphones could also tinker with hormone health, sleep patterns, mental health and more.
- You can drastically reduce your exposure to cellphone radiation using simple tactics like texting by holding the phone away from your body instead of making long calls, keeping the phone on airplane or away from you while you sleep and not keeping your phone on your body all day.
Dr. Josh Axe is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He authored “Eat Dirt” and “The Gut Repair Cookbook,” and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, at DrAxe.com.