Do Studies Link Cellphone Use to Health Issues?

Do Studies Link Cellphone Use to Health Issues?

Cell Phone Health Issues Radiation 101

Since the early 1990s, cell phone use has continued to grow in popularity and frequency. Our phones now act as communication devices, social hubs, libraries, databases, entertainment, and essential work equipment. While these devices are extremely helpful in managing and navigating our modern lifestyle, there has been growing concern over cell phone radiation. To assess whether cell phone use could be affecting health, it’s important to understand how they operate as well as the way radiofrequency (RF) waves work. In this way, the body can be kept in a balanced state of health--both physically and mentally.

What Is Cell Phone Radiation?

Cell phones use cell towers to send and receive signals. These signals are a type of energy called radiofrequency (RF) waves, part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum includes visible light waves, microwaves, FM radio waves, x-rays, and radiation. Different types of waves possess varying frequencies, falling on the electromagnetic spectrum accordingly. A higher frequency (waves per second) produces more energy.1

Radiation exists all around us as energy, some of which can be healthy in small doses--like ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, which produces vitamin D. Most wave types on the electromagnetic spectrum are a form of non-ionizing radiation. “Non-ionizing” refers to these waves' inability to remove electrons from molecules and atoms. Ionizing radiation, like x-rays, gamma rays, and UV rays, can break DNA’s chemical bonds.2

How Cell Phone Radiation Exposure Happens

Radiofrequency waves are emitted from a cell phone’s antenna. In early development, these were visible and fairly long; most cell phones now have hidden antennas in the device’s casing and frame. The closer the body is to the antenna, the greater the exposure to RF waves. For example, holding a phone up to the ear means the head can receive the greatest exposure of RF waves.

While the body does absorb these waves, the amount absorbed depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • The type or model of phone used
  • The amount of time the phone is held to the body, in use
  • Whether the phone is held up to the head or used with a speaker mode
  • Proximity to cell phone towers

Additionally, there is a specific absorption rate (SAR) that cell phone manufacturers are required to disclose. The SAR is the amount of RF radiation coming from the phone that a user’s body can absorb. Current safety standards by the United States’ FCC limit 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight. Of course, the SAR can be affected by frequency of use and the way a person uses their cell phone.1

Are RF Waves Dangerous?

The frequency of cell phone use has dramatically increased since the FCC put their SAR guidelines in place. Many question whether the 1.6-watt limit needs to be reassessed, whether children may be especially vulnerable, and if cell phone makers are accurately reporting the SAR of their devices.

A Case Study

For example, one independent study conducted by the Chicago Tribune in 2019 found that the SAR of some cell phones was higher than FCC limits. Testing of the iPhone 7 showed that the cell phone radiation exposure was over double what Apple had reported in its own testing. Similar results occurred in other models, from Motorola to Samsung. Apple disputed the findings, though the FCC pledged to do its own testing.

One problem identified by the reporters is the distance at which cell phones are tested from simulated human tissue. Testing can range anywhere from 5-15mm away from the simulation; the Chicago Tribune had their lab-tested phones held at 2mm, or about the thickness of a pocket’s fabric.3

Scientific Analysis

Despite the findings by the Chicago Tribune, the question remains: are RF waves dangerous? Many scientific studies have attempted to answer this question. Researchers have studied both rats and humans, measuring the occurrence of tumor development and overall health. Two 2018 studies on rats and mice, for example, suggested a link between cell phone radiation exposure and the occurrence of uncommon heart tumors, called malignant schwannomas.

However, it is to be noted that the animals were exposed to RF waves for 5-7 days per week, 9 hours per day, from birth to natural death. Additionally, only male rats saw an increased risk for heart tumors; female rats and all mice were unaffected.

Human studies have shown a possible correlation between brain tumors and cell phone use, but others have not. Many researchers have not been able to draw any firm conclusions from their research, and more exploration of RF waves’ effects on human health are needed. Additionally, all studies have been conducted on humans or animals; no children have been assessed, though they may be more sensitive to RF waves.1,4

Healthy Cell Phone Use

Although there is no direct scientific link between cell phone radiation and health, being mindful of what is allowed into the body is important. Balancing overall health requires balance in many areas of life, from exercise and nutrition to daily habits. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer listed RF radiation as being possibly carcinogenic to humans. As such, limiting exposure to RF waves certainly can’t hurt. There are a few simple, easy ways to do this.  

  • Don’t carry a cell phone in a pocket or sleep with it next to the skin
  • Use hands-free devices or speaker mode when talking
  • Limit cell phone use--and that of children
  • Choose a phone with a lower SAR, such as the Samsung Galaxy A5, Microsoft Lumia 535, or Samsung Gusto 3. These phones, however, may also have fewer capabilities and features than current models with higher SAR levels1,5

Another way to balance health and limit the impacts of radiation exposure is through the use of powerful antioxidant formulas. Natural antioxidants can help to protect cells, tissues and organs against the oxidative stress caused by radiation exposure.

As research into RF waves continues, erring on the side of caution is the best bet to achieve overall health and wellbeing.



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  1. Cellular (Cell) Phones. American Cancer Society. Published June 1, 2020. Accessed October 20, 2020.
  2. Radiation Studies - CDC: Non-Ionizing Radiation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 7, 2015. Accessed October 20, 2020.
  3. Roe S. We tested popular cellphones for radiofrequency radiation. Now the FCC is investigating. Published August 21, 2019. Accessed October 20, 2020.
  4. Cell Phones and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet. National Cancer Institute. Published January 9, 2019. Accessed October 20, 2020.
  5. EMF Risks. Lowest SAR Phones In 2020. EMF Risks. Published July 15, 2020. Accessed October 20, 2020.