Women talking on a cell phone

By Bob Condor

A major purpose of the Daily Health Blog is to bring you outside-of-the-box thinking about personal health issues. Two University of Washington researchers, Henry Lai and colleague Narenda “N.P.” Singh, have doing just that sort of thinking since the mid-1990s. They were the first American scientists to question whether electromagnetic radiation from cell phones might disrupt DNA in brain cells enough to cause cancer.

That’s way out of the health comfort zone, whether you are a university scientist, telecommunications executive or a busy parent using your mobile to figure out who is picking up the kids or the organic milk.

Cancer is a disease in which healthy/normal cells become corrupted, then go out and corrupt more cells. Lai and Singh hypothesized that cell phone radiation might kick up the corruption like so many clouds of dust on windy day during the dry season. They originally were performing lab rat studies in concert with researchers from Motorola.

But the Chicago-based company got its wireless crossed, not liking what they were hearing about the potential dangers of cell phones. Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Tom Paulson wrote a must-read story on the Lai, Singh and just how much we should be worried about cell phones in the Aug. 2 issue of the newspaper (full disclosure: I write weekly health and wellness column for the “P-I”).

While Tom superbly covers the controversy and subsequent emigration of cell phone radiation to Europe, there are still some questions left for DHB to answer here. For one, it’s abundantly clear that children should use cell phones as little as possible if at all. There is little upside and, well, just my opinion, but a no cell phone rule can allow a kid to be a kid that much longer. Any debate about whether cell phone radiation disrupts the brain is anchored on the undeniable biology that children’s skulls and brains have not completely developed.

Just last week, the well-respected cancer physician and researcher Dr. Ronald Herberman from the University of Pittsburgh came out against young children ever using cell phones.

“Recently, I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects, including cancer,” Herberman wrote in an advisory. His communication included photos of brain imaging scans that displayed how cell phone radiation more deeply penetrates the skulls of children compared to adults.

As the saying goes, a digital picture is worth a thousand-word count.

Herberman added that adults should be wary of cell use, too, referring to an unpublished but large European study called Interphone (13 countries, $15 million

in funding) that was completed in 2005 but has since been hotly argued by the scientists who collected the data deciding how to interpret and publish it.

Don’t expect that landmark data to be officially published any time soon. Yet, along with keeping the cell phones out of kids’ hands, here are some other action steps when using a mobile phone:

1. Use the speaker phone option. It keeps the phone away from your head. You want at least a few inches of distance, which dramatically drops radiation exposure. A foot or more is better. One tip: adjust your volume settings so you can hear and be heard most effectively. And a DHB manners bulletin: Speaker phones can be, face it, annoying to others.

2. Don’t wear your phone on a belt clip or keep it in your pocket. If the mobile emits radiation, it still emits whether held up to your ear or hip.

Bluetooth Headset

3. Consider getting a Bluetooth wireless earpiece. Manufacturers claim the radiation from the Bluetooth technology is 100 to 200 times less intense than a typical cell phone held to the ear. If you think the expense ($20 to 40) is too high, think about the growing number of states that are fining drivers who are talking on a cell phone held up to the ear while operating a vehicle.

4. Find out about ferrite beads. This is an inexpensive clip you put on the wire of a headset. The wire itself is suspected of emitting radiation and the ferrite absorbs and neutralizes the radiation.

5. Reintroduce yourself to land lines.

One more thing: Some new phones are being marketed with lower “specific absorption rate” or SAR. You can decrease radiation if you have new purchase coming up. Or you can add some peace and quiet to your drive time or outdoors time or any other awake time by embracing No. 5 above.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.