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Cellphones: What you need to know

Cellphone use and its potential risks have been making the news in the last month with warnings from prominent researchers and Toronto Public Health. Even Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty began advising parents to limit children's use of cellphones.

What's the fuss about?

Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, a prominent cancer doctor and the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute wrote a memo to the hospital's 3,000 faculty and staff urging them to take precautions when using their mobile phones. Although no definitive link has been found, he advised that people should not wait til future studies be completed before people begin taking precautionary measures. It' s a better safe than sorry approach.

Health Canada and other researchers think that the fear is unfounded as as there currently is no convincing evidence of the dangers of cellphones. Others disagree, like Dr. Vini Khurana an Australian (and Mayo Clinic-trained) neurosurgeon who believes that the link between cellphone use and cancer is irrefutable as he has analyzed more than 100 studies.

So who do you believe?

Frankly it's hard to say when you have all these conflicting points of view. Even after reading up on the subject, most people (and that includes me with my eight years of post-secondary training) will not be able to make a definitive conclusion. In which case, I say it's better to take some precautions than not. And as you will see, it's not hard advice to follow, so why not do it? You don't need to wait for definitive, conclusive research that may come 20, 30 or 40 years from now - just my opinion!

Why are some health experts worried about cellphones?

It has to do with the radiation and the electromagnetic fields that are generated when the cellphone is on. Cells in the body react to radiation and there is potential for DNA damage resulting in cancers or other diseases. Please note that this radiation is emitted even when you're not using the phone - as long as it's on and can receive calls, radiation is being emitted. However this radiation is stronger when you're talking on the phone.

Also, the greater distance you are from a base station, the more radiation your phone must emit in order to get a signal, which is why your phone feels hot when you have low reception. That heat you feel is radiation. The Bioinitiative study found that adverse effects to DNA can also occur before the phone heats up. To reduce your exposure, make calls only when you have strong reception, hang up before your phone heats up, and store your phone away from your body when it's not in use.

On a side note, turn off your phones while you sleep as studies have shown that keeping your cell close to your bed affects the quality of sleep that you get.

Do you know what your phone's SAR value is?

The specific absorption rate (SAR) is the rate of radiation exposure from radio frequency and microwaves measured in watts per kilogram of tissue. Basically, it's a measurement for radiation exposure so the lower the better. You can look up the value for your phone at this link: . Unfortunately, they make you jump through several hoops til you find the information you're looking for.
Here's a quick reference for the 10 worst and 10 best phones according to SAR values as of May 22, 2008 as sourced from

The 10 Worst Cell Phones

(according to their SAR numbers)

1. Motorola V195s (1.6)
2. Motorola Slvr L6 (1.58)
3. Motorola Slvr L2 (1.54)
4. Motorola W385 (1.54)
5. Rim BlackBerry Curve 8330 (Sprint) (1.54)
6. Rim BlackBerry Curve 8330 (Verizon) (1.54)
7. Motorola Deluxe ic902 (1.53)
8. T-Mobile Shadow (1.53)
9. Motorola i335 (1.53)
10. Samsung Sync SGH-C417 (1.51)

The 10 Best Cell Phones
(according to their SAR numbers)

1. LG KG800 (0.135)
2. Motorola Razr V3x (0.14)
3. Nokia 9300 (0.21)
4. Nokia N90 (0.22)
5. Samsung SGH-G800 (0.23)
6. Samsung Sync SGH-A707 (0.236)
7. Nokia 7390 (0.26)
8. Samsung SGH-T809 (0.32)
9. Bang & Olufsen Serene (0.33)
10. Motorola Razr2 V8 (0.36)

Source: , current as of May 22, 2008

Reducing radiation exposure

It appears that the radiation from cellphones drop off slowly for the first 3-4 inches from your body and then it falls dramatically. That means that you should invest in a good hands-free headset and use the speaker phone mode when you're in a private setting. Note: Bluetooth devices do emit radiation, although at very low levels. Still, if you really want to be cautious, then you can do without, but it's up to you to decide what you're comfortable with and how many precautions you want to take.

Can cellphones affect a man's sperm or a pregnant woman?

Again, no definitive conclusions can be made, but certain studies point to possible risks. Dr. Ashok Agarwal, the director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, showed that cellphones that were set down for one hour in talk mode next to sperm samples in test tubes had significant reduction in motility and viability. The sperm also had increased levels of harmful free radicals . Dr. Agarwal suggests storing the phone in your jacket pocket to reduce exposure to cellphone radiation. Pregnant women may also need to take precautions as one study found that cellphone use while pregnant is linked to behavioral problems in children.

Should my kids be using a cell?

In my opinion, no. Besides do children really need a cell? I guess you can argue in case of emergencies, but that wouldn't be as great a factor as they would rarely have to use it. Remember that children are still growing and radiation exposure would affect them more so than adults. Also children have thinner scalps and skulls than adults which means that more radiation penetrates into the nervous system. Some experts believe that children under 16 should not be using cellphones. In fact, the medical community in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom all recommend severe restrictions on children's cellphone use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified cellphones as a a "possible human carcinogen" because of the association between childhood leukemia and exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

It may very well be that this warning is for naught, but we won't know til 20 or 30 years from now. In the meantime, be cognizant of the safety tips on reducing cellphone radiation.

In summary:
  • Turn off phones when not in use.
  • If they have to be on at night while you sleep, keep them a few feet away.
  • Limit or restrict your children's use of cellphones.
  • Use a hands-free headset or hold the phone 8 inches away while using the speaker mode function.
  • Guys, keep the phones in your coat pockets instead of the pants pocket.
  • Pregnant women may want to consider reducing cellphone use.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Ian Koo, ND

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need."

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