Dr. Mehmet Oz, in a recent episode of his popular TV program, "The Dr. Oz Show," and his guest, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, discussed cell phone radiation health effects. Dr. Gupta issued important precautionary messages about cell phone use.
Both Dr. Oz and Dr. Gupta
should be commended for their continued work in reporting about the health
risks associated with cell phone radiation and for issuing precautionary
warnings to the public.
Dr. Gupta provided some
misinformation in this interview which I address in my comments below.
Are Cellphones Dangerous for Your Health?
The Dr. Oz Show, Original air date: Jan 15, 2013
Are cell phones a serious health risk on par with tobacco and asbestos? Dr. Oz
and Sanjay Gupta separate fact from fiction on this hotly contested issue.
Plus, the medical reason why you should wait to give your child a cell phone.
5 minute video clip: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/are-cellphones-dangerous-your-health
Episode Summary and My
Gupta: "I think both groups you just
mentioned, people who say it's absolutely safe and people who say it's
absolutely dangerous, they don't know. And that's the important point
My comment: Very few health scientists or medical
professionals argue either that cell phones are "absolutely safe" or
"absolutely dangerous." Most now recognize that cell phone
radiation is biologically active and agree we need more research to determine
in what ways it can be harmful to our bodies and how best to reduce
risks. Many scientists and health professionals recommend precautionary
measures to the public. Some others who have conflicts of interest or interpret
the data more conservatively tell their family members to take precaution.
Gupta: "We need 30 years of data to know
My comment: Although scientific consensus
takes a long time, Dr. Gupta's contention that we need 30 years of data is
We have had evidence of
harm to humans from exposure to low intensity microwave radiation for
about 40 years. Allan Frey reported in the Annals of the New York
Academy of Sciences in 1975 that 1900 MHz microwaves pulsed at certain
modulations induce blood-brain barrier leakage in humans.
We now have evidence of
increased brain tumor risk associated with cell phone use from multiple
case-control studies. We have also begun to see increased incidence of certain
brain tumors in some countries. There is now considerable evidence of sperm
damage in humans and some evidence of increased male infertility associated
with cell phone use.
To put this in perspective,
in 1912 a monograph documenting a strong link between cigarette smoking and
lung cancer was published. Fifty two years later, in the 1964 report to
the Surgeon General smoking was recognized to cause lung cancer in men and
probably cause it in women.
Given how widespread cell
phone use is and the fact that many children, teenagers, and pregnant women now
use cell phones, it would be irresponsible for us to wait for scientific
consensus that we have conclusive evidence of harm to humans before adopting
Gupta: The Interphone Study found an increase in one type of brain tumor after 10 years.
My comment: The 13-nation Interphone Study paper
reported an increase in glioma, a malignant brain tumor, for those who used
cell phones for 1,640 or more hours in their lifetime. Many of these people
used cell phones for less than 10 years. The paper also found a dose-response
effect in terms of the number of years since the cell phone was first used (see
Appendix 2). Lennart Hardell's research in Sweden has obtained similar
Gupta: Fact: "Cell phone radiation is
regulated by the government." The government was looking at people
who used their cell phones once a week for 6 months. Not a good standard for people
who were more regular cell phone users. It applied to adults.
My comment: This is incorrect. Although the
government regulates cell phone radiation, the FCC's regulatory standard was
developed by industry and does not assume once a week cell phone use. See my critique of the GAO Report for a discussion of how the
standard was developed, and why it is inadequate.
Gupta: Fact: "In your cell phone
instructions, there's a warning to keep the phone a certain distance from your
body." There are very specific warnings about minimum distance, e.g.
the Blackberry is about 3/4 of an inch.
My comment:The manufacturers' warnings vary from
5/8 of an inch (15 mm) to 1 inch (25 mm). More importantly, these minimum
distances are inadequate as they assume that the only harm from cell phones is
due to heating tissue which is not true. Furthermore, the standard is based on
large males and is not adequate for others, especially women and children.
Gupta: The amount of radiation absorbed by a
child is more. He showed Om Gandhi's slide comparing absorption in users of
My comment: Excellent point. The testing
procedures established by the FCC employ a simulated head from a 6 foot 2 inch,
220 pound male. Most people's heads absorb far more radiation. Moreover,
individuals with metal fillings or braces on their teeth and those who wear metal eyeglass frames will be exposed to more radiation.
Gupta: Fiction: "Cell phones emit the
same kind of radiation as X-ray machines." Non-ionizing radiation is like
a microwave oven. You don't want to hold a microwave oven by your
My comment: This is not a good analogy as the
radiated power of a cell phone is much less than a microwave oven.
Moreover, the harm from cell phone radiation exposure is not likely due to
heating tissue but through sub-thermal mechanisms.
Oz: We don't have long-term data. There
are flaws in studies. What should we do?
Gupta: I always use a wired earpiece. I
think about not giving my kids cell phones. If you're having a hard time
hearing, the phone emits more radiation, make the call another time.
are good, basic precautionary messages. Other messages should include: 1) turn
off your phone when not using; 2) never put the phone to your ear - use a
headset, especially a corded device, or other hands-free method such as a
speakerphone or text; 3) keep away from the head, eyes, salivary glands and
reproductive organs – never in your pants pockets; and 4) use by pregnant
women, children and teenagers should be extremely limited.