Cell Phone Dangers and Solutions
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
Nikola Tesla once said, "If you wish to understand the secrets of the Universe, think of energy, frequency, and vibration."
Energy, frequencies, sounds, and vibrations are all around us, even if you can't hear them, see them or sense them in any way, and they can have a profound impact on your health. I've written a lot about the dangers of electromagnetic fields (EMF) in general, and cell phone radiation specifically, but appreciation for the critical importance of this science for humans as well as the environment is proving slow, with tremendous resistance from industries with potential liability.
This will hopefully change in time, thanks to the likes of Martin Blank, PhD, who spoke at the November 18, 2010 Commonwealth Club of California program , "The Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields", co-sponsored by electromagnetichealth.org.
This event—the largest yet in the United States on EMF & health--was organized in association with the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Citizens for Health, the EMF Safety Alliance, the Radiation Research Trust (U.K.) and the International EMF Alliance.
Dr. Blank speaks with deep experience and commanding authority on the impact on cells and DNA from electromagnetic fields, and explains why your DNA is especially vulnerable to electromagnetic fields compared to other issues.
Who is Martin Blank, PhD?
Dr. Blank, past president of the Bioelectromagnetics Society, has an impressive resume backing up his statements on this topic. He has two PhDs, one from Columbia University in Physical Chemistry, and another from Cambridge University in Colloid Science. He's an Associate Professor at Columbia University in the department of physiology and cellular biophysics, and a researcher in bioelectromagnetics. He authored the section on stress proteins for the Bioinitiative Report, and edited the journal Pathophysiology’s special issue on the biological effects of electromagnetic fields.
In this talk, Dr. Blank explains the science of EMF—how electromagnetic frequencies impact your cells and DNA. On exposure to electromagnetic fields, he explains, cells respond as if they are in distress. We see this through the cellular stress response. This truly is crucial information, because I'm sure you've heard more than a few people reiterate the now tired, scientifically disproven, and incorrect statement that "non-thermal radiation cannot produce a biological effect."
Dr. Blank lays this and other inaccuracies to rest here with compelling and credible evidence. There are a lot of bona fide scientists speaking about this topic, Dr. Blank says, but many of them are speaking without having the prerequisite expertise within the field. This is important. Being a "scientist" is not enough here.
Physicists in particular are often introduced as 'experts' to defend the status quo of EMF's being completely harmless (unless there is enough power to heat tissue), but as Dr. Blank warns, "the fact of the matter is they have not read the literature."
The Science is Clear: Non-Thermal Radiation DOES Cause Biological Harm
Dr. Blank is adamant when he says that there IS evidence of harm, and that the harm can be significant. He also points out that the science showing harmful effects has been peer-reviewed, published, and that the results have been replicated, evaluated and "judged by scientists capable of judging it." Most importantly, researchers now have a fair understanding of the actual mechanisms causing the damage, which I will summarize below.
The Spectrum of Frequencies that Surround You
When looking at a spectrum chart of frequencies, you'll find that cell phones operate in the middle of the spectrum, in the microwave range, which is a subset of the radiofrequency band. Below microwaves are lower frequency radio frequencies, and at the bottom of the spectrum you have 'extremely low' frequencies known as ELF, which include frequencies from electrical wiring and household appliances, for example.
All of these frequencies are within the non-ionizing radiation range, which means they don't have enough heating effect, or power, to separate electrons from atoms. Above that, you enter the ionizing frequency range, which include ultraviolet (UV) rays, gamma rays and x-rays.
Some of these frequencies exist in nature while others, such as telecommunications frequencies, are man-made and not something our bodies are adapted to, nor expected to ever adapt to. Just one of the many reasons why we need to thoroughly investigate the biological repercussions of broadcasting a range of these frequencies is that technologies keep transmitting more and denser content, such as audio, video, data, etc., which can create significant biological disruption due to modulation of the signals.
Also, higher and higher frequencies are being used, ostensibly because more information can be transmitted at these higher frequencies. While various high frequencies are biologically disruptive, understand that the very low ELF frequencies can also be similarly harmful, such as electric and magnetic fields. One is not better or worse than the other, necessarily, but it is the cumulative load of these exposures and the chronic duration of the exposures that we need to become cognizant of and protect ourselves against.
And as we'll see below, DNA is reactive across the entire spectrum.
It's quite clear and non-controversial that ionizing radiation causes significant damage to the human body, including cancer, but certain physicists are simply wrong when they claim you cannot get any kind of biological reaction as long as you stay within the non-ionizing range of frequencies.
These physicists are thinking about what they know well—heating effects on matter—but it's clear they need to start spending time with the biologists! And they should certainly not be opining on this subject until they have read the science on the biological effects of EMF at non-thermal exposures.
It's true that there's an insufficient amount of energy to dislodge an electron, "but boy, you can get a lot of biological reactions in the non-ionizing range!" Dr. Blank says. "And they have been published and repeated so we know that you can get biological reactions in the non-ionizing range."
How EMF's Cause Cellular Stress Responses and Biological Damage
DNA, as you probably know, is a molecule that contains genetic information. However, this genetic information does more than simply pass traits down to future generations. In fact, this genetic information is constantly being accessed to maintain optimal functioning within your body, in response to your environment. As Dr. Blank explains, your DNA "is constantly at work, making proteins required for the business of life." The ladder-like structures that make up the double helix of your DNA represent the chemicals that tie the two strands together. These structures contain the genetic code, and the sequence of the bases tells you what kind of molecule is required for building protein needed.
Some of these proteins are created in response to stress in what's known as the cellular stress response. You may be familiar with the stress response in your body, in which cortisol and adrenaline is produced, for example. But each and every one of your cells has a similar defense mechanism against stress as well.
According to Dr. Blank, there are about 20 different stress proteins in nature, called heat shock proteins (HSP), which are used by your cells to counteract harmful stimulus. Whenever a cell is exposed to an unfriendly environment, the DNA separates in certain regions and begins to read the genetic code to produce these stress proteins (HSP).
Therefore, the presence of stress proteins is an indication that the cell has come into contact with something that is detrimental to its wellbeing. Essentially, it's your cells' way of saying, "I've encountered something bad." And, Dr. Blank emphatically claims, "There's no question cells react to EMF's as harmful." Research has clearly shown that radiation within the non-ionizing range can cause single- and/or double-DNA-strand breaks, which cells respond to by creating stress proteins. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that your cells do not only react to frequencies in the microwave range, but across the ENTIRE SPECTRUM of frequencies, from low ELF's and up!
Your DNA Acts as a Fractal Antenna
Dr. Blank compares your DNA to what electrical engineers refer to as a 'fractal antenna.' A fractal antenna is an antenna that can pick up a range of frequencies across the EMF spectrum. Two additional features of your DNA that fulfill the requirements of a fractal antenna are that electrons in DNA conduct electricity, and the fact that the DNA is coiled within the nucleus. Each of these different coil sizes respond to a frequency on the EMF spectrum, which explains why your DNA responds to such a wide range of frequencies. In a nutshell, the human body is constructed with a fractal antenna inside each and every cell, which responds to the entire range of frequencies on the EMF spectrum! What this means is that it would be foolish to focus on just one frequency, because we are bombarded with ALL of these frequencies, from low ELF's to microwaves, to ionizing radiation. "And you never know which frequency will do the most damage," Dr. Blank warns.
Responsible for EMF Response Identified
In the video, Dr. Blank explains that they have now identified the DNA that controls the response to electromagnetic fields. They did this by taking the piece of the DNA molecule responsible for stimulating one specific stress protein (out of the 20 stress proteins produced). This particular stress protein is called HSP70.
The long line you see in the photo below is a symbolic representation of the different parts of the DNA that are part of the promoter—this is the part of the DNA that gets activated to start the synthesis process.
In his presentation, Dr. Blank explains that the red rectangles are particular configurations of bases (CT-CT). They found that the section known as the EMF domain (shown here as the large red rectangle), controls the response to EMF's. And, by changing that part of the DNA, they were able to effectively eliminate the EMF response. In short, when you charge a molecule, you can cause that molecule to break apart. For example, researchers have shown that a hemoglobin molecule can be made to break apart by increasing the charge on the molecule. The reason why the DNA molecule can be made to break apart even though the radiation is non-ionizing is because of the electrical conductivity inside the DNA molecule, i.e. the electrons present in the DNA bases can be made to move. And, EMF's have been shown to cause electron transfer in the DNA. So, the idea that non-ionizing radiation cannot create a biological effect has been shown to be completely inaccurate.
Health Hazards Linked to Cell Phone Use
Scientists have found that microwaves transmitted by cell phones and other wireless devices can:
•Harm your blood cells
•Damage your DNA
•Cause nerve-cell damage
•Possibly accelerate and contribute to onset of autism, and trigger Alzheimer’s disease.
•Damage your eyes
•Cause sleep disruptions, fatigue and headaches
•Contribute to salivary gland tumors
•Cause decreased bone density
•Lead to electromagnetic hypersensitivity
•Affect your heart rate and blood pressure
Cell Phones and Brain Cancer
There's also a strong link between EMF exposure and cancer. A review of 11 long-term epidemiologic studies published in the journal Surgical Neurology two years ago revealed that using a cell phone for 10 or more years approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor on the same side of the head where the cell phone is typically held.
Professor Mild, lead researcher of that particular study, also cautioned that the danger may be even greater than what they found because cancers need a minimum of 10 years to develop. Since children today are using cell phones at an earlier age than any previous generation, their exposure will be far greater over their lifetimes. Because children have thinner skulls than adults, and their nervous systems are still developing, children are particularly vulnerable to this type of tumor and should not use cell phones at all.
Australia has seen an increase in pediatric brain cancers of 21 percent in just one decade. This is consistent with studies showing a 40 percent brain tumor increase across the board in Europe and the U.K. over the last 20 years. Brain cancer has now surpassed leukemia as the number one cancer killer in children. The BioInitiative Report also includes studies showing evidence for exposure to electromagnetic fields brain tumors, acoustic neuromas, and childhood cancers like leukemia.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself and Your Family
In the end, all the evidence points to the fact that our current safety standards are completely inadequate. Our rapidly expanding wireless technologies must be properly evaluated, first of all, and the precautionary principle must be invoked when new technologies emerge. While you can't completely avoid radiation in today's wireless world, if you're ready to give up your cell phone, you can virtually eliminate that one hazard, at least. If you're not prepared to take that step, you can minimize your exposure by heeding the following advice:
Children Should Never Use Cell Phones
Barring a life-threatening emergency, children should not use a cell phone, or a wireless device of any type. Children are far more vulnerable to cell phone radiation than adults, because of their thinner skull bones.
Reduce Your Cell Phone Use: Turn your cell phone off more often. Reserve it for emergencies or important matters. As long as your cell phone is on, it emits radiation intermittently, even when you are not actually making a call.
Use a Land Line at Home and at Work: Although more and more people are switching to using cell phones as their exclusive phone contact, it is a dangerous trend and you can choose to opt out of the madness.
Reduce or Eliminate Your Use of Other Wireless Devices: You would be wise to cut down your use of these devices. Just as with cell phones, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you really need to use them every single time.
If you must use a portable home phone, use the older kind that operates at 900 MHz. They are no safer during calls, but at least many of them do not broadcast constantly even when no call is being made.
Note the only way to truly be sure if there is an exposure from your cordless phone is to measure with an electrosmog meter, and it must be one that goes up to the frequency of your portable phone (so old meters won't help much). As many portable phones are 5.8 Gigahertz, we recommend you look for RF meters that go up to 8 Gigahertz, the highest range now available in a meter suitable for consumers.
Alternatively you can be very careful with the base station placement as that causes the bulk of the problem since it transmits signals 24/7, even when you aren't talking. So if you can keep the base station at least three rooms away from where you spend most of your time, and especially your bedroom, they may not be as damaging to your health.
Ideally it would be helpful to turn off your base station every night before you go to bed. You can pretty much be sure your portable phone is a problem if the technology is DECT, or digitally enhanced cordless technology.
Use Your Cell Phone Only Where Reception is Good: The weaker the reception, the more power your phone must use to transmit, and the more power it uses, the more radiation it emits, and the deeper the dangerous radio waves penetrate into your body. Ideally, you should only use your phone with full bars and good reception.
Also seek to avoid carrying your phone on your body as that merely maximizes any potential exposure. Ideally put it in your purse or carrying bag. Placing a cell phone in a shirt pocket over the heart is asking for trouble, as is placing it in a man's pocket if he seeks to preserve his fertility.
Don’t Assume One Cell Phone is Safer Than Another. There's no such thing as a "safe" cell phone.
Keep Your Cell Phone Away From Your Body When it is On: The most dangerous place to be, in terms of radiation exposure, is within about six inches of the emitting antenna. You do not want any part of your body within that area.
Respect Others Who are More Sensitive: Some people who have become sensitive can feel the effects of others' cell phones in the same room, even when it is on but not being used.
If you are in a meeting, on public transportation, in a courtroom or other public places, such as a doctor's office, keep your cell phone turned off out of consideration for the 'second hand radiation' effects. Children are also more vulnerable, so please avoid using your cell phone near children.
Use Safer Headset Technology: Wired headsets will certainly allow you to keep the cell phone farther away from your body. However, if a wired headset is not well-shielded -- and most of them are not -- the wire itself acts as an antenna attracting ambient information carrying radio waves and transmitting radiation directly to your brain.
Make sure that the wire used to transmit the signal to your ear is shielded.
The best kind of headset to use is a combination shielded wire and air-tube headset. These operate like a stethoscope, transmitting the information to your head as an actual sound wave; although there are wires that still must be shielded, there is no wire that goes all the way up to your head.
As Dr. Blank says, we all have to live with risk, but unless we're willing to give up the conveniences these technologies provide, we must at least make accommodations to minimize the inherent risks.
You're bathed in a wide range of frequencies every day, so please, at least take the above precautions to reduce your risk, and the risk to your children, who are even more vulnerable to long-term damage.
Dr. Blank ended his remarks emphasizing people must get involved in raising awareness. "And probably the most important part is the public education campaign. That is, people must be made aware of this issue. They must realize that even though they cannot see EMF or feel it, it's having its effect and that these effects are cumulative, many are slow-acting, and that you really can't beat it."
Let's all do our part to educate others, and especially those in government responsible for setting exposure guidelines.