Mobile radiation, WLAN and DECT impair cognitive performance

We are all chronically exposed to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Increasing data on health and environmental impacts is giving rise to increasing debate.

By Dr. Sophie Christoph

We are all chronically exposed to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Increasing data on health and environmental impacts is giving rise to increasing debate.

Shortly before the turn of the year, we published a two-part article in our oncology blog about something that is so ubiquitous and commonplace that more and more people are discussing the possible health consequences: electromagnetic radiation. With an increase of 10 times (Source 18) since the middle of the 20th century, it represents the most rapidly increasing man-made environmental pollution - whether through radio masts, mobile phones, WLAN, DECT telephones, LTE, 5G expansion or smart meters.

For the neurology blog, we have identified an exciting area that has not yet been discussed: what does the data available tell us about effects on cognitive performance? We don't want to beat you to death with study data, but we would like to present a few examples from a large number of papers to give you a better idea of the risks we are likely to take with our current practices and limits.

WLAN and cordless phones (DECT) impair learning and memory performance

Researchers at the University of Delhi were able to show in animal experiments that subchronic low-intensity microwave radiation leads to a decrease in cognitive function as well as to cell stress and DNA damage in the brain.

They irradiated rats for 90 days at frequencies of 900, 1,800 and 2,450 MHz at very low intensity and then performed various cognitive tests, also on a control group of non-irradiated rats. Not only did learning and memory decline at all three frequencies, but in the final hippocampal tissue samples obtained, the scientists determined DNA strand breaks and an increase in HSP 70 (heat shock protein), which could explain the worsened brain performance. At the WLAN frequency of 2450 MHz, the damage was most pronounced. (Sources 1,2).

Another research group warns that, with regard to DECT radiation, the application of the precautionary principle - especially for sensitive groups of people (babies, pregnant women) - would be absolutely necessary after they had investigated the effects of prenatal and post-natal exposure to radiation from a 1,880-1,900 MHz DECT base station on the development of rats.

The animals were irradiated either not at all, exclusively prenatally or pre- and postnatally with SAR values far below the limit values. In both exposed groups, negative effects on the integrity of the hippocampus were detectable (loss of pyramidal cells and overexpression of acid glial fiber protein or GFAP). The measured effects on cell density could be a correlate for memory deficits. In addition, irradiated fetuses showed higher heart rates and changed somatometric characteristics after birth. The authors speak of irreversible damage during embryogenesis. (Sources 2,3)

Effects of mobile radio radiation on brain function

In another experiment, pregnant rats were exposed to EMFs at 900 MHz, which was also associated with poorer learning behavior and histopathological changes in brain tissue in young animals. (Sources 4)

A cytotoxic effect on hippocampal cells could be shown for mobile radio radiation in the high-frequency range of 1.950 MHz (UMTS, W-CDMA). This effect is further enhanced by increased production of reactive oxygen species. This carries the potential to trigger neurodegenerative diseases, e.g. M. Alzheimer's. (Sources 2,5)

In addition, chronic exposure to mobile radio radiation of 900-950 MHz (GSM) lowered the threshold for epileptic seizures in mice. (Sources 2,6)

Quality defects in official expert opinions

The list of such study data, also on other effects, such as cancer potential or damage to fertility, could be continued further and further - then how can it be that there are still no seriously protective limit values and that the increase in forced exposure to such radiation is being rapidly driven forward, as can be observed especially with the 5G expansion?

According to the German Environmental and Consumer Organisation for the Protection Against Electromagnetic Radiation (In German: Umwelt- und Verbraucherorganisation zum Schutz vor elektromagnetischer Strahlung e. V.), one reason is the fact that these study data are regularly not mentioned in the reports of official commissions, e.g. as drastically seen on the 7th mobile radio report of the German Federal Government of 2016. The members of the Bundestag simply did not receive this part of the information. (Sources 2)

A 2012 report by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR), to which health organizations worldwide refer, forms the basis for many official guidelines. An independent English neurophysiologist, Sarah J. Starkey, published an article in Reviews on Environmental Health in which she compared the best available evidence with the contents of this review. Her observation: the study situation was reproduced incorrectly and incompletely. There are often conflicts of interest and internationally almost identical teams of expert commissions, which repeatedly confirm the established limit values and the supposed harmlessness. (Sources 2,7)

Book tip: "Disconnect" by Devra Davis

The successful book "Disconnect" by Devra Davis, Ph.D., President of the Environmental Health Trust and finalist of the National Book Award, also deals with this dark side of the telecommunications industry, which is much larger and more influential than the medical complex. Davis writes, among other things, that independent studies find evidence of negative effects of mobile radiation about twice as often as those financed by industry, but the latter make up the majority. Some authors also name tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry in dealing with these debates, such as discrediting researchers who publish critical works. (Source 8)

Council of Europe Committee of Experts recommends a ban on WLAN and mobile phones at schools

The Council of Europe and other experts concluded on the basis of existing evidence that mobile phones and wireless Internet are potentially harmful to health and that immediate action is needed, in particular, to protect children. The Council of Europe, therefore, rejects WLAN and mobile phones in schools. According to the committee's report, mistakes made by health care professionals who have failed to correctly assess the risks posed by asbestos, smoking or lead should not be allowed to recur in the future. (Source 9)

1. Deshmukh, P. S. et al. Effect of Low-Level Subchronic Microwave Radiation on Rat Brain. Biomed. Environ. Sci. 29, 858-867 (2016).
2. WLAN and DECT telephones degrade memory performance
. Available at: Cellphone Safety Standards Are Not as Safe As You Think. Available
7. Starkey, S.J. Inaccurate official assessment of radiofrequency safety by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Rev Environ Health 31, 493-503 (2016).
6. Kouchaki, E., Motaghedifard, M. & Banafshe, H. R. Effect of mobile phone radiation on pentylenetetrazole-induced seizure threshold in mice. Iran J Basic Med Sci 19, 800-803 (2016).
5. Kim, J.-Y., Kim, H.-J., Kim, N., Kwon, J. H. & Park, M.-J. Effects of radiofrequency field exposure on glutamate-induced oxidative stress in mouse hippocampal HT22 cells. Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 93, 249-256 (2017).
4. ─░kinci, A. et al. The Effects of Prenatal Exposure to a 900 Megahertz Electromagnetic Field on Hippocampus Morphology and Learning Behavior in Rat Pups. NeuroQuantology 11, (2013).
3. Stasinopoulou, M. et al. Effects of pre- and postnatal exposure to 1880-1900MHz DECT base radiation on development in the rat. Reprod. Toxicol. 65, 248-262 (2016).
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9. European Leaders Don't Want Cell Phones and WiFi in Schools. Available 
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