You might have read the headlines that Cellphone use might prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Well, don’t get too excited yet.

Alzheimer’s disease is not caused by a loss of brain cells as much as it is caused by the build-up of amyloid (protein) and plaques, which then destroy the brain cells.

So, a scientist took some mice who were genetically prone to get Alzheimer’s like brain changes with cognitive changes, and exposed them to cellphone radiation.

The University of South Florida study showed that the electromagnetic waves erase brain deposits of the harmful protein beta-amyloid, which represents a hallmark of mentally crippling Alzheimer’s disease. The exposure also prevented build-up from the protein in younger Alzheimer’s mice — a possible lead on future non-invasive Alzheimer’s treatments for humans.

And then there is this:

Even the non-demented mice saw benefits from the exposure through increased blood flow and energy metabolism in the brain. That improved brain activity actually boosted the memory of the mice to above-normal levels.

So it is unclear why the experiment helped the mice (the scientists were not looking for that result).

But one part of the experiment made me wonder.

Up to now, all those stories about cellphones and cancer seemed outlandish. How could a cellphone cause cancer, does it release that much microwave radiation?

I have no idea, but this National Geographic article makes me wonder:

No one knows how the radiation protects against Alzheimer’s, but the team has some ideas.

One is that the microwaves create cellular stress in the brain, and that the stress jump-starts DNA repair mechanisms in the brain.

So can microwaves affect DNA? And if so, could that be the missing link between the once rare lymphoma of the brain and cellphones?

For years, it has been suspected that microwaves could cause lymphomas: I first came across the problem 35 years ago, when I treated a young man from the Air Force who had lymphosarcoma: on taking his history, I found that in the military hospital where he was treated was also treating six other men with similar cancers who had all worked with microwave communications.

However, since then, all such concerns have been dismissed as conspiracy theories. Even though the government has a website with instructions on what and how to monitor for radiowaves and microwaves.

Probably the reason is that harm is related to dosage, and the dosage quickly falls with distance, so even a short distance will protect you.

So does that mean I will or won’t use my cellphone?

Well, here in Asia, everyone has a cellphone, but since talking costs airtime, everyone usually texts instead. (even the cook, the maid and our farmers have access to cellphones, and they buy a “load” for a dollar. letting them text messages to their relatives).

As for microwaves, yes we use ours. But microwaved food doesn’t have microwaves in it (like light or radiowaves, they zap and disappear), so unless you stand right in front of the door, I wouldn’t worry. Worry more about your TV and computer: don’t sit right in front of the screen, don’t use an electric blanket, and try not to live next to a busy airport.

On the other hand, as I would remind my patients: yes there are small risks and larger risks. Stop smoking, avoid transfats, and wear your seatbelt. After you do these things to stop well known common problems, then you can worry about the rare disease of the week that Art Bell or Oprah discussed last night.

As for Alzheimer’s disease: until the scientist actually find out how and why it causes senility, the main thing is to stop dementia by keeping blood pressure under control, and keeping one’s cholesterol down.

But the report of the cellphone radiation slowing decline in mice brings up all sorts of questions that will have to be explored and answered by scientists in the next few years.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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