Study summary and analysis written by Ann E. Laubscher, M.A.
This post is a summary and analysis of an independent scientific study titled “Pathophysiology of cell phone radiation: oxidative stress and carcinogenesis with focus on male reproductive system“.
In addition to concerns regarding the thermal (heat) effects of cell phone use, substantial research gives evidence to the potentially harmful effects of the radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) they produce. While the International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has established cell phone RF-EMW limits to decrease exposure, exposure effects on human cells is still a controversial topic. Significant areas of concern include free radical metabolism and carcinogenesis, which relate to tumor production and cancer, and male fertilization potential, the effects of RF-EMW on sperm health.
Research indicates that RF-EMW may affect a cell’s plasma membrane, a structure that is critical for a variety of functions, including message transmission and protection of intracellular structures. One critical message the plasma membrane delivers relates to apoptosis, the natural and healthy process of cell death. In an effective apoptosis process, a cell dies and is disposed of without incidence. In defective apoptosis, several disruptive things can happen. An overstimulation of apoptosis causes atrophy, and under-stimulation results in uncontrolled cell growth causing cancer. When the plasma membrane signaling system falters, a chain of negative reactions may occur.
A second potentially cancerous effect of RF-EMW relates to the balance of free radicals and antioxidants in the system. When in balance, reactive oxygen species (ROS), free radicals formed during oxygen metabolism, aid in cell communications and other productive cellular functions. Antioxidants in the system keep the numbers of ROS at a healthy and productive level. Oxidative stress (OS) is created when the balance is disrupted; it can affect “gene expression, release of calcium from intracellular storage sites, cell growth, and apoptosis.” Studies support the theory that RF-EMW exposure creates OS, reduces antioxidant capacity throughout the body, and increases ROS production in semen.
RF-EMW may also damage DNA, although results vary based on the type of cell exposed and the length of exposure. The implications are significant because when DNA cannot repair itself, as is the case when DNA double strands break, apoptosis occurs. If that apoptosis process was already altered by faltering plasma membranes due to the RF-EMW exposure, the effects may become linked and cumulative in nature. This again creates an environment primed for carcinogenesis.
Research suggests a link between male infertility and cell phone exposure. While the ethical constraints prohibit direct causal studies regarding human fertility and RF-EMW exposure, correlational studies show significant associations between reported cell phone use and sperm quality. Prolonged exposure is associated with decreasing sperm count, poorer sperm movement, and fewer live sperm in human ejaculate. Oxidative stress has a significant impact on human spermatozoa, which could contribute to the diminished sperm health associated with prolonged cell phone exposure. DNA damage may also compound the effects.
The effects of RF-EMW on enzyme functions are another concern. RF-EMW alters protein kinase C (PKC) and calcium homeostasis, critical for sperm motility. Additionally, research suggests that PKC activity reduction caused by RF-EMW may “be associated with carcinogenesis.” Another enzyme, ODC, when targeted by microwave radiations, may foster the progression of cancer.
Whether acting on plasma membranes, creating oxidative stress, damaging DNA or altering enzyme functions, RF-EMW, even at approved levels, is not dismissible. Whether concerned about tumor growth or fertilization effects, mindful use of cellphones is warranted.