5 Often Overlooked Cellphone Health Threats

Cellphones and infertility is just the tip of the iceberg, new research suggests.

November 12, 2012

Cellphones may contribute to a host of health problems, research suggests.

Are cellphones really safe? The answer depends who you talk to. While scientists have yet to prove a surefire link between brain cancer and cellphone radiation (that type of research takes decades to show a clear cause and effect), there's mounting evidence that wireless radiation from cellphones could be contributing to other health problems.


In 2011, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer listed electromagnetic radiation from cellphones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider the latest research to reassess testing. (FCC set energy exposure limits way back in 1996.)

If cellphones are harming us, it may take several more decades to definitively prove it. One thing is certain, though. Cellphones make our lives better in many ways, sure, but emerging science—usually in the form of smaller studies—suggests the benefits don't come without risk.

Sleep Disruption
Snuggling up with your smartphone or iPad before going to bed could be wrecking your sleep. Exposure to artificial light an hour or two before bedtime can suppress the release of the sleep-including hormone melatonin, disrupting circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.

The Fix: Make the two hours before you hit the sack an "artificial light–free time zone." Instead of checking your email or streaming the latest Daily Show episode, grab a book or spend some quality time with your partner, sans electronics.

2. Sperm Damage
Smartphones come with warnings saying the devices may exceed FCC radiation levels, but that important notice often winds up tossed in the trash with the cellphone packaging. What's more, if you read the fine print, cellphone manufacturers warn users to keep the phones off of the body.

That's bad news for men who don't heed that warning. There's compelling evidence highlighting cellphone radiation's damaging effects on sperm. In fact, Davis says this is one of the most important things we need to pay attention to when it comes to cellphone health threats. When exposed to cellphone radiation, "sperm dies three times faster, and there's three times the damage to DNA," explains Devra Davis, PhD, MPH. "Men, however, are keeping phone in their pockets right near sperm-production organs."

The Fix: If you'd rather not play Russian Roulette with your sperm count, keep your cellphone at least several inches away from your body as often as possible. Avoid cases that claim to increase your phone's battery life. They could actually increase your exposure to radiation. An exception? Pong Research cellphone and/or iPad cases developed by MIT, Princeton, Harvard, and UCLA scientists help direct radiation away from your body. But regardless, it's best to keep your phone off of your body.

3. ADHD and Memory Problems
A 2012 Yale mouse study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that fetal exposure to cellphone radiation increased the risk of neurobehavioral disorders like hyperactivity and poorer memory.

The Fix: Put your phone in a safer mode. If you're using your phone for certain tasks, you might not even need the wireless transmitters turned on. "Teach your kids to keep their phone or iPad on Airplane Mode as much as possible," says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of Zapped: Why Your Cellphone Shouldn't Be Your Alarm Clock and 1,268 Ways to Outsmart the Hazards of Electronic Pollution. "Switching off the Wi-Fi and 3G transmitters reduces radiation exposure but still allows access to music, movies, apps, and games," she adds.

4. Brittle Bones
Wearing your phone over your hip isn't just zapping your sex organs. A small study published last year in the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery found that carrying a cellphone over one hip consistently led to poorer bone mineral density and bone mineral content over that hip.

The Fix: Protect your bones by using speaker phone instead of talking with a cellphone up against your head, and favor texting over talking whenever possible—it creates more space between the device and your body. (Just don't text while driving!) Gittleman suggests putting your iPad on a stand instead of on your lap, especially when using it for long periods of time, such to watch a movie.

5. Erectile Dysfunction
Another small study found men who kept their cellphones on and carried them around on their bodies twice as often as other men were more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.

The Fix: Besides keeping your cell off of your body, you should avoid sleeping with it. If you use your cellphone as an alarm clock, keep it across the room and away from your body. Ladies, if you'd like to practice the precautionary principal, you probably want to avoid bras now marketed with built-in cellphone carrying compartments, since scientists don't yet know how close proximity to cellphone radiation impacts breast tissue.