Amid ongoing claims that long-term cell phone radiation may lead to brain tumors comes a new study suggesting the radio waves may protect and even reverse Alzheimer's disease, at least in mice.
And the radiation gave mice without Alzheimer's a boost in brain activity.
"It surprised us to find that cell phone exposure, begun in early adulthood, protects the memory of mice otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's symptoms," Gary Arendash, lead author of the study and researcher at Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, said in a statement.
The researchers showed that exposing old Alzheimer's mice to the electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones erased brain deposits of beta-amyloid, a protein strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease. Clumps of beta-amyloid form so-called brain plaques that are a hallmark of the disease. The scientists speculate the cell phone radiation increases brain temperature, causing brain cells to release the nasty plaques.
They suspect a similar effect would show up in humans, and so cell phone radiation might be used to prevent and treat the debilitating disease for us, they say.
However, studies done on rodents do not always translate to useful human therapies, so more research would be needed.
Mice on cell phones
The study involved 96 mice, most of which were genetically altered to develop beta-amyloid plaques and memory problems mimicking Alzheimer's disease as they aged. Some mice were left as-is, so researchers could test the effects of the radiation on normal memory as well.
Both the Alzheimer's and normal mice were exposed to the electromagnetic field generated by standard cell phone use for two 1-hour periods each day for seven to nine months.
The mice were not actually chatting on cell phone or even packing the devices. Rather, they were housed in cages arranged around a centrally-located antenna that generated a cell-phone signal. The cages were arranged at the same distance from the antenna and exposed to the radiation typically emitted by a cell phone pressed up against a human head.
Radiation and memory
Results showed if cell phone exposure was started when the Alzheimer's mice were young adults — before signs of memory impairment were apparent — their cognitive ability was protected. In fact, the Alzheimer's mice performed as well on tests measuring memory and thinking skills as aged mice without dementia.
If older Alzheimer's mice already exhibiting memory problems were exposed to the cell phone radiation, their memory impairment disappeared. The researchers suggest this reversal may be due to the slight increase in brain temperature that they observed in the Alzheimer's mice after months of exposure to cell phones. The higher temperature may have helped the Alzheimer's brain to remove newly-formed beta-amyloid by causing brain cells to release it.
The cell phone exposure even boosted the memories of normal mice to above-normal levels.
The memory benefits took months to show up, suggesting that a similar effect in humans would take years. The researchers suspect the main reason for this improvement involves the ability of electromagnetic radiation to increase brain activity, promoting greater blood flow and increased energy metabolism in the brain.
How humans could benefit
The memory test used on the mice was designed from a test used to determine if Alzheimer's disease, or its very early signs (mild cognitive impairment), are present in humans.
"Since we selected electromagnetic parameters that were identical to human cell phone use and tested mice in a task closely analogous to a human memory test, we believe our findings could have considerable relevance to humans," Arendash said.
Arendash and his colleagues concluded that electromagnetic field exposure could help to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease in humans. They are currently evaluating whether different sets of electromagnetic frequencies and strengths will produce more rapid and even greater cognitive benefits than those found in their current study.
There has been recent controversy about whether electromagnetic waves from cell phones cause brain cancer. While many studies have found no risk, a review article last October concluded that some of the "higher quality" studies did show an associated risk. The World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health are still conducting research on the topic, and some countries have issued guidelines for cell phone use, such as limiting use for children.
The current study found no evidence of abnormal growth in brains of the Alzheimer's mice after many months of exposure to cell phone-level electromagnetic waves. The results are published in the Jan. 6 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.