Loss Of Memory Link To Smartphones
Journalist: Lucie Morris
March 1, 1999
Mobile phones have been linked to memory loss in worrying new research.
Scientists say tests on humans showed the phones disrupted a part of the brain which controls memory and learning.
Researchers at Bristol Royal Infirmary attached transmitters to the heads of 38 volunteers. Half received microwaves identical to those produced by most mobiles for half-hour periods. All were asked to perform simple psychological tests to measure brain function and memory, and those who had not been subjected to the radiation performed better.
And last night, one leading British scientist said he had also begun to suffer the effects of radiation and has curbed his own use of mobiles. Colin Blakemore, an adviser to the National Radiological Protection Board, which regulates the £5 billion mobile phone industry in Britain, now uses his phone for only two minutes at a time and for just ten minutes a day.
The professor of physiology at Oxford University says using the phone over longer periods may have a more permanent and damaging effect.. By limiting his use, Dr. Blakemore said he has stopped experiencing the ‘lack of awareness’ he felt when making longer calls. There is evidence, he said, of an adverse effect on ‘cognitive function, memory and attention.’
‘It has a transient effect,’ he added. ‘I have had the feeling that there is a gap in experience while I have been on the phone and have not been aware of other things going on.’
He believes the radiation affects the way certain message-carrying chemicals move within the brain and inside individual nerve cells.
Because many of these chemicals have electric charges, their behaviour can be influenced by radiation preventing nerve cells from functioning normally.
The cells involved in short-term memory storage are near the right ear, as are those in the brain stem which are involved in the regulation of blood pressure.
He added that the potential for memory loss had serious implications for drivers who were warned last week that they run a high accident risk up to ten minutes after finishing a call.
Dr. Alan Pearce, the medical physicist who conducted the Bristol research for the Department of Health, said last night:
‘There is accumulating evidence of the biological effects microwaves can have on living tissue.
‘I wanted to know more, specifically what, if anything, did happen to cognitive functions, reaction times, special awareness and memory under heavy exposure to these electronic waves.
‘I am not an alarmist and logically I think it is likely that the risk of brain damage from mobile phones – if it exists at all – must be very low. But I am convinced there is a need for further research.’
The work, to be published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology next month, could lead to the Government telling manufacturers to introduce a shield to cut out radiation emissions and to advise owners to use an earpiece.
It also follows tests on 11,000 mobile users in Sweden and Norway. Their results showed increased use led to a rise in headaches and fatigue. Radiation from mobile phones, though much less than from an X-ray, has already been found to raise the blood pressure of mothers-to-be, and has been linked to brain tumours and cancer as well as headaches and tiredness.
Tom Willis-Sandford, director of information and communications technology at the Federation of the Electronics Industry, an umbrella group for mobile phone firms, said: ‘As far as we’re concerned, there is nothing to link mobiles and ill health effects.’
He said health scares had not affected sales in the UK, which have now topped 13.5 million. ‘We do take this issue very seriously and would be concerned if our customers are concerned. We do not expect this to happen.’
A spokesman for Orange, the UK’s third largest telecommunications business, said: ‘As far as we’re concerned, there is still no substantial evidence that suggests a link between mobile phone use and medical problems. When this new research comes out we will look at it and comment accordingly.’