To Your Health

I had stopped worrying about brain cancer from cell phones until another worrisome report came out recently. I can't give up the convenience of my cell phone, so how real is the risk, and are there ways to reduce it?

Q. I had stopped worrying about brain cancer from cell phones until another worrisome report came out recently. I can't give up the convenience of my cell phone, so how real is the risk, and are there ways to reduce it?

A. There is not enough information yet to make an unequivocal assertion about the risk or lack of risk from cell phones, but there is certainly enough information to warrant additional studies.

What we have assumed so far is that microwave signals would only damage a living cell by producing heat, just as a microwave oven does. Two years ago the British government looked into the matter and concluded there was no evidence of a risk to health from cell phone radiation because the microwaves used were thought to be too weak to produce enough heat to damage a cell. Then a new study found damage to cell membranes by a yet-unknown mechanism other than heat. Very recently a Finnish scientist found that exposure to mobile phone radiation for one hour caused cultured human cells to shrink, indicating stress-related damage of some sort.

In particular, such changes might open up holes in the otherwise very tight "blood-brain barrier system" that could allow harmful substances to enter the brain from the bloodstream. Normally, the internal environment of the brain is kept extraordinarily pure by the blood-brain barrier system, which shuts out almost everything unless there is a specific transporter to bring in what is needed.

Radiation-induced changes in other cells might also interfere with a process called "apoptosis," or programmed cell death. Apoptosis is the normal way for the body to get rid of the unwanted cells, and if the cells that are marked to die do not, tumors could result.

Free radicals are another way, other than heat, by which microwaves could theoretically produce damage. Free radicals are produced in a variety of ways, certainly including high-energy radiation. If low-energy microwave radiation also produces free radicals, there are several remedies, all antioxidants, that would be worth using as "insurance." Topping the list is a form of vitamin E known as delta tocopherol. The form of vitamin E we use most is alpha tocopherol, but other forms, including delta tocopherol, have their place. Delta tocopherol is better than alpha tocopherol at protecting membranes against radiation damage, so it is the place to start if you are worried about cell phone radiation. It is available at present only as part of "mixed tocopherols," which will include alpha, beta, and gamma tocopherol in addition to delta tocopherol, but the other forms of vitamin E besides delta tocopherol will also be beneficial. A "mixed tocopherol" capsule with about 400 IU of total vitamin E activity each day would supply enough delta tocopherol.

Other antioxidants that should be considered are the old standby vitamin C, available with bioflavonoids that will enhance its activity, lipoic acid and glutathione. Both of the latter are expensive but excellent antioxidants for membrane protection. Each of these antioxidants would probably go a long way toward protecting you against whatever risk the cell phone radiation adds to your normal environment.

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