does mobile phone radiation affect the brain?

Does mobile phone radiation affect the brain and, if so, how does it do so? New studies shed light on these important questions, especially for young people whose brains are still developing. In their paper, a team of scientists from China* said that mobile phone radiation has been linked with memory loss, attention problems, cognitive and learning difficulties, irritability, sleep problems, stress, seizures, emotional and behavioural problems, inattention and fatigue.

To explore why this occurs, they investigated the effects of radiation on neurons of the hippocampus—the part of the brain that relates to memory and learning. They did this by exposing hippocampal neurons from rats to a mobile phone signal of 1800 MHz for 24, 48 or 72 hours.

They found that neurons exposed for 48 hours had changes in neurite outgrowth. This is the process in which neurons produce new projections as they grow and is important for developing new networks of neurons in childhood or after disease or trauma. Unusual neurite outgrowth can cause neurodegenerative diseases. The exposed neurons had changes to the length and number of their branches.

The researchers also found changes to a protein called Rap1 which is important for cell proliferation, differentiation, migration, signalling and survival. They postulated that exposure reduced the activity of this protein, causing downstream changes that impaired neurite outgrowth and thus caused changes to the function of the hippocampus.

‘Due to the developmental sensitivity of infants and adolescents, the neuronal impairment induced by 1800 MHz RF-EMR [radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation] can interrupt programmatic neural development and cause abnormal neuronal behavior and diseases,’ the authors said. ‘The influence of RF-EMR exposure on the developing brain requires greater attention.’

And now a new study co-authored by Swiss researcher Martin Röösli has found a link between mobile phone use and adverse effects on young people’s memory retention. The team studied 700 adolescents aged between 12 and 17 tracking their phone habits and getting them to complete memory tests. Over the course of a year, participants had to fill out a questionnaire about their mobile phone habits, as well as answer questions about their psychological and physical health. They then completed a series of computerized cognitive tests.

Röösli said a unique feature of the study was the use of phone user data from mobile phone operators. That meant for every call made by the participants, the researchers “knew on which network it took place and how long it lasted.”

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives**, found that one year’s worth of exposure to mobile phone radiation could have a negative effect on the development of memory performance in specific brain regions in adolescents. Here ‘exposure’ almost exclusively refers to phone calls. 

“80 percent of the absorbed radiation comes from holding the phone to the head,” Röösli noted. Interestingly, they found the brain’s memory function was more vulnerable to the negative impact of radiation when the phone was held to the right hand side of the head. That’s where the areas of the brain related to memory are located.

“Basically what we saw was the higher the absorption of radiation [by the brain] the more likely the development of memory in one year wasn’t as good as those who didn’t absorb as much,” Röösli said. The researchers also emphasised that more research needs to be done to rule out other factors, including puberty, which could impact both mobile phone use and cognition. The absorption of mobile phone radiation into the brain is much higher in children than it is in adults, reaching noticeably further across a 5-year-olds brain than a 10-year-olds.

The researchers also investigated microwave radiation with the phone at ear contact. They found that a 3-year old child absorbs about twice as much radiation into the cerebellum, and up to  thirtyfold more into the hippocampus–the part of the brain central to memory, emotions, and impulse control.

“When we first began to model cellphone exposures in the brains of toddlers and young children years ago, I never imagined we would see phones placed directly in front of the eyes as children are doing now,” noted study author Professor Claudio Fernandez of the Federal Institute of Rio Grande do Sul, who has previously published several key papers children’s radiation absorption. The researchers initiated this study because children are increasingly using VR systems, that were never evaluated for their health impact.

“Children’s vision, brain and hearing could be permanently impaired by this untested radiation,” stated Devra Davis Ph.D., MPH, a study co-author, and President of Environmental Health Trust (EHT). “This study shows children’s eyes absorb significant amounts of radiation. Children are more vulnerable because their eyes are still developing.  Early life insults could mean earlier vision decline. In addition, the eyes contain few blood vessels, so they have no way to cool off.”

The reason the SAR is higher in children is based on several factors. The skull is thinner and the ear is smaller – this means that the radiation has a shorter distance to travel from the phone to the brain. When it comes to SAR, every millimeter can make a difference, so these differences in size have a big impact on absorption.

The bone marrow has a higher water content – this means that the bone marrow has greater conductivity, therefore a higher SAR. Not all tissue is equal when it comes to absorbing radiation, and the properties of tissue also vary between adults and children. It has been shown that the SAR in the bone marrow of children is more than ten times higher than that in adults due to the higher water content. In short, greater conductivity coupled with smaller ears and thinner skulls raises the absorption considerably in children.

What can you do?

  • reduce your use of mobile phones
  • take calls on the left side of your head
  • keep the phone at least 25mm away from the head or body
  • use a hands-free kit and keep the phone in a bag
  • text rather than call to reduce the amount of excess radiation.
  • fit an R2L, which reduces exposure to mobile phone radiation by up to 70% by converting potentially harmful excess radiation into harmless light
  • use shielded mobile phone cases and/or our airtube headsets
  • use the phone loudspeaker
  • use a radiation-free, broadband compatible landline phone instead of a mobile. 

*Li Yanqi et al, “1,800 MHz Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Irradiation Impairs Neurite Outgrowth With a Decrease in Rap1-GTP in Primary Mouse Hippocampal Neurons and Neuro2a Cells”, Frontiers in Public Health, Vol 9, 2021,

**”A Prospective Cohort Study of Adolescents’ Memory Performance and Individual Brain Dose of Microwave Radiation from Wireless Communication”, Milena, Foerster; Arno, Thielens; Wout, Joseph; Marloes, Eeftens and Martin Röösli, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, Berkeley Wireless Research Center, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA, Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC), Leuven, Belgium, Department of Information Technology, Waves research group, Ghent University.

*”Exposure Limits: The underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children”, March 2012 Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 31(1):34-51 PubMed, Project: Dosimetry using millimeter resolution anatomically based models. Dr Om P Gandhi, University of Utah, L Lloyd Morgan, Alvaro Augusto De Salles, Yueh-Ying Han, University of Pittsburgh.

Edited from articles originally published by and

Image credit: picture-alliance/dpa/K.Mayama

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