There’s a joke in which a doctor tells a patient, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you have 24 hours to live. The bad news is that I forgot to call you yesterday.” Just like that joke, it seems that, given enough time, industry comes up with something positive to say for almost every toxic entity that adds profit to the economy while endangering health.
Take cell phones, for instance. In the wake of major reports that potentially tie cell phone use to brain cancer, a new study has found a miraculous healing effect “potentially” originating from the phones. According to a report just published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, extended exposure to cell phones starting at a young age may prevent and even reverse Alzheimer’s.
The study, out of the University of South Florida, involved 96 mice, including some genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The mice enjoyed an hour every morning and another hour in the evening with their cages arranged close to an electromagnetic transmitter. The transmitter, which emulates a cell-phone tower, emitted energy equivalent to what the human brain gets exposed to with a phone next to the head. The treatment continued for six to nine months, subjecting the mice to the human equivalent of 25 to 30 years of daily cell-phone use. After each zapping session, the mice got released into water mazes where they had to swim around and recall the location of underwater platforms.
After four months of treatment, all the mice did better on the memory tests. The normal mice performed better than normal mice who hadn’t been exposed to the radiation, making fewer errors and finishing faster, and the mice with Alzheimer’s did better than the Alzheimer’s mice with no exposure to radiation. Most strikingly, Alzheimer’s mice who had started the irradiation treatments at a very young age, prior to the onset of the disease, performed at a level equivalent to the normal mice. Even the Alzheimer’s mice who started irradiation at five months of age, when they were just starting to deteriorate mentally, showed no further signs of decline and in fact, the treatments seemed to begin reversing signs of Alzheimer’s — but this was only after they had received a full eight months of treatment. Prior to that, tests showed no measurable improvement.
The reason for the magic, according to the researchers, is that the amyloid protein that normally forms a gummy substance that clogs brains and causes Alzheimer’s remained in liquid form after radiation exposure. The researchers found this effect both in autopsies of the genetically altered mice and also when they placed amyloid protein in petri dishes and exposed it to the transmitter. Study director Dr. Gary Arendash attributes the amyloid protein melt to heat coming off the radiation. The mice had body temperatures a full degree higher than normal after months of exposure. Another theory postulates that the exposure to radiation activates the healing mechanism in the brain, triggering DNA repair.
On the other hand, Dr. Phelps of the National Institute on Aging warned that what works for mice might not work on humans. For one thing, while cell phones typically get pointed directly at the brain, the mice had whole-body exposure. Dr. Phelps postulated that the exposure might have stimulated a biological response elsewhere in the body that later got carried to the brain. In other words, radiation in general might be helpful, but not directed radiation aimed at the head. Also, Alzheimer’s works differently on humans than it does on mice. Although both species develop amyloid plaque with the onset of Alzheimer’s, in humans Alzheimer’s victims suffer neuron loss and the formation of neurofibrillary tangles, neither of which occur in mice. Breaking up the brain plaque might not be enough to reverse the disease in humans.
“This is no call for anyone to self-medicate,” said Dr. Bill Thies, the medical director of the Alzheimer’s Association. But still, the research team has big dreams. “If we can determine the best set of electromagnetic parameters to effectively prevent beta-amyloid aggregation and remove pre-existing beta-amyloid deposits from the brain, this technology could be quickly translated to human benefit against AD [Alzheimer’s disease],” says research team member Dr. Chuanhai Cao. “Since production and aggregation of beta-amyloid occurs in traumatic brain injury, particularly soldiers during war, the therapeutic impact of our findings may extend beyond Alzheimer’s disease.”
And yes, the researchers may well be onto something. Massive exposure to cell-phones may well zap Alzheimer’s. But given that unlike the mice, the researchers weren’t genetically modified to become forgetful, they seem remarkably oblivious to the fact that restoring memory might not be such a benefit when the possible side effects involve brain cancer. On the other hand, the scientists don’t seem to buy the cell-phone-causes-brain cancer story. Dr. Cao says that this study “provides evidence that long-term cell phone use is not harmful to [the] brain.” And Dr. Arendash concludes that there is “no evidence” of much risk [of brain cancer from cell phone use].
Certainly, the Environmental Working Group disagrees, as I’ve pointed out in earlier blogs. After careful review of 200 studies on the subject, the EWG issued a report citing increased incidence of brain tumors and celluloid lung cancer, increased risk of hyperactivity in children, salivary gland tumors, migraines and vertigo. Meanwhile, the International EMF Foundation, comprised of an illustrious panel of scientists from 13 countries, also issued a report last year cautioning that industry has grossly underreported the dangers that cell phones pose, including significant increased risk of brain cancer and genetic damage, with that elevated risk hovering around 20 percent for each year of cell-phone use. The state of Maine also disagrees — lawmakers there are considering making warning labels mandatory on cell phones.
It’s certainly interesting that one of the chief arguments put forth by those scientists who insist that cell phones are safe has been that the devices don’t put out enough radiation to have any effect on the brain, let alone grow tumors. Now those same scientists are eager to point out that cell phones emit enough radiation to break up amyloid plaque and possibly reverse Alzheimer’s. I guess in the world of science you truly can have your cake and eat it too.