Exposure to radiation from cell phones during pregnancy affects the brain development of offspring, potentially leading to hyperactivity, Yale School of Medicine researchers have determined.
The results, based on studies in mice, are published in the March 15 issue of Scientific Reports, a Nature publication.
“This is the first experimental evidence that fetal exposure to radiofrequency radiation from cellular telephones does in fact affect adult behavior,” said senior author Hugh S. Taylor, M.D., professor and chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.
Taylor and co-authors exposed pregnant mice to radiation from a muted and silenced cell phone positioned above the cage and placed on an active phone call for the duration of the trial. A control group of mice was kept under the same conditions but with the phone deactivated.
The team measured the brain electrical activity of adult mice that were exposed to radiation as fetuses, and conducted a battery of psychological and behavioral tests. They found that the mice that were exposed to radiation tended to be more hyperactive and had reduced memory capacity. Taylor attributed the behavioral changes to an effect during pregnancy on the development of neurons in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a developmental disorder associated with neuropathology localized primarily to the same brain region, and is characterized by inattention and hyperactivity.
Mothers who use cell phones during pregnancy - and let their small children use cell phones - increase their child’s risk of serious behavior problems by 80%.
Or maybe not.
“This is just a statistical association. We don’t know if it is causal or not,” study researcher Jorn Olsen, PhD, tells WebMD. Olsen is professor and chair of epidemiology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health.
The finding comes from a survey of mothers of 13,159 Danish children enrolled in a long-term study looking at how various exposures during pregnancy affect children’s long-term health. At the time of the current survey, the children were 7 years old.
Questions about cell phone use were included in the survey because the World Health Organization has asked for more studies about the possible health effects of the ubiquitous devices.
The unexpected finding linking cell phone use during pregnancy to behavior problems doesn’t prove cell phone exposure affects children. It may simply be the result of unmeasured “confounding” factors, warn study researchers and colleagues.
If true, however, the effect would be quite strong - similar to the twofold increased risk of behavior problems seen in the children of mothers who smoke during early pregnancy and somewhat less than the threefold increased risk of behavior problems linked to alcohol use during pregnancy.
“We have shown that behavioral problems in mice that resemble ADHD are caused by cell phone exposure in the womb,” said Taylor. “The rise in behavioral disorders in human children may be in part due to fetal cellular telephone irradiation exposure.”
Kids whose mothers used cell phones while pregnant had a 54% higher risk of behavior problems - emotional problems, hyperactivity, conduct problems, and peer problems. Kids who used cell phones themselves had an 18% higher risk of behavior problems. And kids with both exposures had an 80% higher risk of behavior problems.
By Daniel J. DeNoon