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Mobile phone radiation and memory performance concerns

Cell phones (including smartphones) give off a form of energy known as radiofrequency (RF) waves. This has led to some concerns have being raised about the safety of cell phone use, and to academic studies being conducted. The complexity with such research is that studies need to be conducted over long time periods and because the amount of RF energy absorbed from the phone into the user’s body – the specific absorption rate – varies according to people and to environment.

Studies tend to be based on medical records from people or where researchers expose animals to something like RF energy to see if it triggers tumors or other health related problems. The problem is many studies are producing mixed results, and may take some time for a clearer picture to emerge. According to the U.K. National Health Service, for instance, while risks are probably low: “researchers acknowledge this evidence is based on use of mobile phones over the last 20 years, and there’s still some uncertainty about possible health effects from using a phone for longer than this.”

The new research has looked at the impact of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields on the development of memory performance of specific brain regions exposed during mobile phone use. The findings, from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, suggests there could be an adverse effect on memory. The researchers looked at 700 adolescents, aged 12 to 17 years, in Switzerland.

The researcher looked at figural memory performance, which is located in the right brain hemisphere. Specifically the researchers found that cumulative brain exposure from mobile phone use, as measured over one year period, appears to lead to a negative effect on the development of figural memory performance in adolescents. This outcome will lead to further study.

The research is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The research paper is called “A prospective cohort study of adolescents’ memory performance and individual brain dose of microwave radiation from wireless communication”. A companion study appears in Environment International, titled “Memory performance, wireless communication and exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: A prospective cohort study in adolescents.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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