Feb 22, 2011 5:40 PM by Erika Edwards, NBC News (BT)

Cell phone use affects brain cell activity, study finds

Many of us would simply lose our minds without a cell phone, but new research shows using a cell phone can affect brain activity.

Turns out, even brief conversations on a mobile phone can alter activity in our brain cells. "Cell phone exposure, in this case for 50 minutes, affects the human brain," said Dr. Nora Volkow, of the National Institutes of Health.

A small study from the National Institutes of Health finds radiofrequency signals from a mobile phone speed up the way brain cells metabolize glucose, which is a cell's energy source. Neurologists say that puts those brain cells closest to the phone's antenna under stress. "Those brain cells may tolerate the stress just fine but it may be that for some that extra stress just pushes those cells over," said Dr. Michael DeGeorgia, a neurologist from UH Case Medical Center. How far those cells can or should be pushed remains a mystery, and studies on whether mobile phone usage leads to brain tumors have been inconclusive.

It's going to take years of additional study to determine the long-term effects, if any. But more than 90 percent of us use a wireless device, especially children and teenagers whose brains are still developing. "We don't know what the long-term consequences of driving increased activity within those regions of the brain will be when these children become adults," said Dr. Keith Black, a neurologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The lead researcher on this latest study says she won't stop using a cell phone, but she will change the way she uses it. "I no longer use the cell phone by putting it close to my brain. I use an ear piece," said Dr. Volkow.

Until scientists piece together all the facts, any final conclusions are on hold.


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