Saturday, May 31, 2008

Is your cell phone making you fat?

Hmmm...betcha rolled your eyes when you saw THAT headline. So did I until I read this abstract.

Here was the study setup:

Male Djungarian hamsters were exposed, 24 hours a day for 60 days, to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF's) at three different levels of intensity, measured in units of megahertz (MHz). The MHz levels used were the standardized electromagnetic frequency ranges utilized by European telecommunications networks. Exposure equalled the upper exposure limit allowed in Germany.

The hamsters were divided into two groups, one group was actually exposed to the EMF's, while the other was exposed to every aspect of the setup except for the electromagnetic energy. This was to insure that there was not some outside artifact in the setup that might cause any observable change.

At the lowest level of exposure (383 MHz), a temporary increase in body weight up to 4% was observed. At the middle level of exposure (900 MHz), a more significant (up to 6%) and permanent increase was observed. Interestingly, at the highest level of exposure, there were no observable effects on body weight.

What does this mean? Well, the obvious conclusion is that if you are a hamster with weight issues you should stick to using land lines.

Seriously, what I'm drawing attention to here is that sometimes answers to important scientific questions are not always in the most obvious places. A person gains weight, they assume it's about how much they eat and how little they exercise. And, the confounding counterargument is that a person who is spending time on his/her cell phone is not as physically active as someone engaged in other activities. So who's to say what the real cause of the weight gain is?

The other aspect of this argument is the amount of electromagnetic exposure these hamsters were subjected to. It was high, granted, but when I read this study I immediately thought of all the that Blackberry addicts out there, who cannot ever separate themselves from their little electronic gadgets. The people I see at parties, on street corners, etc., who cannot cut the techno-umbilical cord, no matter what interesting and engaging live social opportunity happens to be sitting right in front of them. THAT is the group of people I'd want to study, compared to casual cell phone users...and to...maybe members of that remote South American tribe that just this week had its first-ever introduction to a helicopter.

The connection in this area of research that scientists seem to be pursuing is the effect of electromagnetic activity on the metabolic action of the hormone melatonin. Healthy melatonin function is important for good mental health, and that is what those of you reading this blog are interested in pursuing. And that is why I'm posting this information on this blog. Melatonin is commonly thought of as the sleep hormone, but it has a lot of other very important activities, and its action is sensitive to electromagnetic activity.

There clearly need to be many, many studies that parse this kind of finding into its multiple aspects in order to figure out what exactly is going on. But in the meantime, it's probably not unwise to be sure that you strike a healthy balance when it comes to the amount of time you spend in contact with certain technological toys.

Lerchl A, Kr├╝ger H, Niehaus M, Streckert JR, Bitz AK, Hansen V. Effects of mobile phone electromagnetic fields at nonthermal SAR values on melatonin and body weight of Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). J Pineal Res. 2008 Apr;44(3):267-72.

Photo courtesy of't Google the greatest?

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