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New research shows that wireless telephones can affect the brain

11 November 2009 Expertsvar

A study at Örebro University in Sweden indicates that mobile phones and other cordless telephones have a biological effect on the brain. It is still too early to say if any health risks are involved, but medical researcher Fredrik Söderqvist recommends caution in the use of these phones, above all among children and adolescents. Few children who regularly use mobile phones use a headset often or always, even though the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority recommends this.

“Children may be more sensitive than adults to radiation from wireless phones,” says Fredrik Söderqvist, who is presenting his research findings in a new doctoral thesis at Örebro University.

On the one hand, he examined the use of wireless telephones among children and adolescents, on the other hand, whether adolescents themselves perceive any health problems that might be related to this use.

He then went on to study blood samples from adults, looking at two so-called biomarkers to see whether wireless phone use has a biological effect on the brain. One of these studies focused on a protein that exists in the so-called blood-cerebrospinal-fluid barrier, which is part of the brain’s protection against outside influences. The study revealed an association between use of wireless telephony and increased content of the protein transthyretin in the blood.

Fredrik Söderqvist stresses that the increase as such does not have to be a cause of concern, but since it indicates that the brain is in fact affected by microwaves from wireless telephones, there may be other – as yet unknown – effects that may impact our health.

“We should all follow the recommendations of the Radiation Safety Authority when it comes to using headsets and avoiding mobile phone use when the coverage is poor.”

Self-perceived health problems 

The study also shows that users themselves experience health problems that may be caused by wireless telephones. Children and adolescents who regularly use wireless telephones more often reported various health symptoms and graded their well-being lower than those who do not use them regularly. According to Fredrik Söderqvist, it is not possible to draw any conclusions about what is cause and effect on the basis of this study, but he feels that it is urgent to examine this association more closely.

“The connection was strongest regarding headaches, asthmatic complaints, and impaired concentration. But more research is needed to exclude the effects of other factors and sources of error, even though it is difficult to see how this connection could be fully explained by such factors.”

Impact may be felt in the future

Today nearly all children from the age of 7 have access to a wireless telephone, but usage takes off only around the age of 12, and more than 80 percent of all 19-year-olds use mobile phones regularly. At the same time, the study shows that fewer than two percent of the children and adolescents use a headset often or always.

“This is worrisome, since the possible health effects from long-term exposure to microwaves have not been clarified, especially among children and adolescents. The threshold values in place today protect us from warming, a so-called thermal effect. But if there are mechanisms that are independent of warming, it is not certain that today’s thresholds provide protection. And it may be that these are effects that will not be perceived until later on in the future,” says Fredrik Söerqvist.

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