Monthly Archives: October 2016

Cut Your Cell Phone Cancer Risk

Does the World Health Organization’s statement that cell phones may cause cancer have you thinking twice about making that phone call?

Of course it’s alarming to think that something that’s become such a can’t-live-without can be linked to brain cancer, but there’s a lot even the most cell phone-addicted people can do to minimize health risks.

Any potential links to cancer stem from the low levels of radiation cell phones emit. Lower your exposure to the radiation, and you’ll reduce the potential links to cancer or other health problems:

– Use a headset. Sounds obvious, but headsets emit much less radiation than cell phones do, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and they keep your cell phone away from your head. The farther away you are from a source of radiation, the less damage it can do.
– Text when you can. Your constantly texting teens are onto something: Cell phones use less energy (and emit less radiation) when you text than when you talk, says the EWG. Texting also keeps the radiation source farther away from your brain.
– Use cell phones for FYI-only calls. Don’t use your cell phone for that long overdue, hour-long catch-up with your sister. Keep calls as short as possible — Do you need me to get the dry cleaning, honey? — and switch to a landline if they’re veering off into chitchat territory.
– Watch the bars. Can you hear me now? If you’re struggling to maintain a connection, ditch the call and wait until you have better service. When your phone has fewer signal bars, it has to work harder (and, therefore, emit more radiation) to connect.
– Keep the phone away from your ear when you can. recommends waiting for the call to connect before you bring the phone to your ear, which minimizes radiation exposure. And when you talk, tilt the phone away from your ear and bring it in close when you’re listening. That’s because the radiation levels are “significantly less when a cell phone is receiving signals than when it is transmitting,” Lin Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University in Houston, told The New York Times.
– Don’t make calls in elevators or cars. You already it’s dangerous to talk and drive; says that cell phones use more power to establish a connection in enclosed metal spaces like cars and elevators.
– Make sure your kids use the landline. It seems like even toddlers are using cell phones today, but experts say kids are the most vulnerable to potential radiation dangers. The EWG says children’s brains absorb twice as much cell phone radiation as adults. According to The New York Times, health authorities in Britain, France, Germany, and Russia all have warnings against letting children use cell phones.
– Buy a low-radiation phone. Some cell phones emit more radiation than others; if you’re in the market for a new phone, recommends that you consider the phone’s SAR (specific absorption rate), a way of measuring the radiation absorbed by the body. It’s usually listed in the phone’s instruction manual. You can also look at the EWG’s report of cell phone SARs here — from the LG Quantum’s 0.35 W/kg on the low end to the Motorala Bravo’s 1.59 W/kg on the high end

Foam Cups With Chemical is a Possible Carcinogen

The chemical styrene, ubiquitous in foam coffee cups and take-out containers, has been added to the list of chemicals considered possible human carcinogens, according to a new U.S. government report.

On Friday, experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added styrene, along with five other chemicals — captafol, cobalt-tungsten carbide (in powder or hard metal form), certain inhalable glass wool fibers, o-nitrotoluene and riddelliine — to its list of 240 substances that are “reasonably anticipated” to be carcinogenic.

But before you toss those white plastic take-out containers, keep this in mind: the government report says that by far the greatest exposure to styrene comes from cigarette smoke. In fact, one study cited in the report estimates that exposure from smoking cigarettes was roughly 10 times that from all other sources, including indoor and outdoor air, drinking water, soil and food combined.

Styrene is a widely used chemical. Products that contain it include insulation, fiberglass, plastic pipes, automobile parts, drinking cups and other food containers and carpet backing, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.

Studies in the lab, animals and humans — particularly workers in industries such as reinforced plastic that expose them to higher than normal levels of the chemical — suggest that exposure to styrene causes damage in white blood cells, or lymphocytes and may raise the risk of lymphohematopoietic cancer, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

There is also evidence exposure may raise the risk of esophageal and pancreatic cancer among styrene-exposed workers, according to the Report on Carcinogens, prepared by the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The report also issued its strongest warning about two other chemicals, formaldehyde (widely used as a preservative) and a botanical known as aristolochic acids, adding both to the list of “known” carcinogens.

“The strength of this report lies in the rigorous scientific review process,” said Ruth Lunn, director of the National Toxicology Program Office of the Report on Carcinogens, in a news release.

Aristolochic acids have been shown to cause high rates of bladder or upper urinary tract cancer in people with kidney or renal disease who consumed botanical products containing aristolochic acids, according to the report. Despite a U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning against the use of products containing aristolochic acids, it can still be purchased on the Internet and abroad, particularly in herbal products used to treat arthritis, gout and inflammation.

Formaldehyde has long been listed as a substance “reasonable anticipated” to cause cancer after animal studies showed it increased the risk of nasal cancer. Since then, additional studies in humans have shown exposure increases the risk for certain types of rare cancers, including nasopharyngeal (the nasopharnyx is the upper part of the throat behind the nose), sinonasal and myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, prompting federal officials to strengthen its warning.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is widely used to make resins for household items, such as composite wood products, paper product coatings, plastics, synthetic fibers, and textile finishes. Formaldehyde is also used as a preservative in medical laboratories, mortuaries, and in some hair straightening products.

Representatives of industry took issue with the addition of both formadelhyde and styrene to the NTP’s list.

“It will unfairly scare workers, plant neighbors and could have a chilling effect on the development of new products,” Tom Dobbins, a spokesman for the American Composites Manufacturers Association, told The New York Times. “Our companies are primarily small businesses, and this could hurt jobs and local economies.”

The federal panelists were quick to stress that the public shouldn’t panic over the inclusion of any one substance in the Report on Carcinogens.

“A listing in the report does not by itself mean that a substance will cause cancer,” John Bucher, associate director of the NTP, told Bloomberg News in a conference call with reporters. Many factors, including the amount and duration of exposure, as well as an individual’s susceptibility can affect whether a person will develop cancer.

Googling Your Memory

Before the advent of home computers and cell phones, you probably memorized a lot more information — such as phone numbers and birthdays — than you do now.

Not surprisingly, a new study has found that the brain just doesn’t remember information as well if the person knows that the information has been saved on a computer. What people may remember, however, is where they need to look on the computer to access that information.

What isn’t yet clear is how these changing memory patterns may change the brain in the long run.

“I think [technology] might hurt the type of memorization that we usually think about, like remembering the name of an actress, but I think there might be some benefits, too,” said study author Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Columbia University in New York City.

“If you take away the mindset of memorization, it might be that people get more information out of what they are reading, and they might better remember the concept,” she explained.

Sparrow and her co-authors point out that the ways people rely on computers for information is myriad. From the score of a ballgame to learning how to compute a statistical formula to figuring out just who that actor was in the movie you recently saw, a few keystrokes can reveal what you’re looking for.

“People automatically think of using a search engine and computers and smart phones to find information they don’t know. It’s as if we’re using those devices as external memory sources, and we wondered if by doing things this way people wouldn’t remember as well,” said Sparrow.

To test whether or not relying on technology affects the memory, the researchers designed four experiments. All of the study volunteers were college students.

The first experiment had 46 volunteers, and the researchers asked the volunteers two different blocks of trivia questions. Some were easy questions, such as “Does 2 plus 3 equal 5?” while others were such difficult questions that it would be almost impossible for the volunteers to know the answer without using the computer. For example, a possible question was, “Does Denmark contain more square miles than Costa Rica?”

The volunteers were then shown a group of general words, such as table or telephone, or computer words, such as “modem,” “screen,” “Google” or “Yahoo.” Then, they were asked to identify the color of each word (either red or blue). Participants who had just attempted to answer the difficult questions responded to the color questions slower (by about 120 milliseconds) than those who hadn’t. Sparrow said this is because they had been primed to think about using the computer to find out the answers, which slowed their reaction time. She added that the longest response time was to the word “Google.”

The second, third and fourth experiments had 60, 28 and 34 volunteers, respectively, and each experiment built off the previous one.

In the second experiment, the volunteers answered trivia questions and typed in their answers. Half thought the information would be saved, while the other half thought it would be erased. Those who thought they wouldn’t have access to that information later remembered the information better than those who thought it had been saved.

For the third experiment, volunteers again typed in their answers to trivia questions. They were then told the information had been saved, erased or saved to a specific folder. Again, those who thought the information was erased had the best recall, according to Sparrow.

In the final experiment, the researchers told the volunteers that all of the information would be saved, and gave them generic file names, such as “FACTS,” “DATA,” “NAMES” or “INFO.” They were then asked to write down on a sheet of paper as many of the answers as they could remember, and where the information was stored. The researchers found that people remembered where they had stored the information more than what the information was.

Sparrow pointed out that this isn’t so different from how people rely on each other for external memory. For example, you may know someone who retains a lot of sports info, and you may have another friend that’s a movie buff. In the past, if you needed this info, you would ask friends or family. Now, she said, the Internet is providing many people with lots of knowledge.

Results of the study were published online in Science on July 14.

Dr. Boris Leheta, a neurologist at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said that while there may be unknown ramifications to using computers as external memory, he doesn’t see this as a “doomsday study.”

“If we’re not using the capacity we have for memory, there is definitely a concern because we do still need to perform some memorization tasks,” he said, but added that on the other hand, “Maybe we can spin the technology to our benefit. Maybe technology can alleviate us from excessive information overload.”

“An analogy might be the abacus. Would you say that someone who used an abacus in the past wasn’t challenged mathematically? Maybe the technology we think could be detrimental might turn out to be positive,” said Leheta.

But, he noted that this is an initial study, and more studies need to be done to confirm the findings and figure out exactly what the potential consequences might be.