Do Cell Phones Weaken Bones?

October 26, 2009

Long-term exposure to cell phone electromagnetic fields could weaken bones, potentially affecting the outcomes of surgical procedures using bone grafts.

Wearing a cell phone on your belt may lead to decreased bone density in an area of the pelvis that is commonly used for bone grafts, according to a study in the September issue of The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery.

With long-term exposure, electromagnetic fields from cell phones could weaken the bone, potentially affecting the outcomes of surgical procedures using bone grafts, according to the new study by Dr. Tolga Atay and colleagues of Suleyman Demirel University, Isparta, Turkey.

Bone Density Slightly Reduced on Side Where Cell Phone Is Worn

The researchers measured bone density at the upper rims of the pelvis (iliac wings) in 150 men who were cell phone users and carried their phones on their belts. The measurements were performed using a technique called dual x-ray absorptiometry—the same test used to measure bone density in patients with osteoporosis and other bone diseases.

Bone density was compared on the side where the men wore their phones (the right side in 122 men and the left side in 28) versus the opposite side. The men carried their phones for an average of 15 hours per day, and had used cell phones for an average of 6 years.

The results showed a slight reduction in iliac wing bone density on the side where the men carried their phones. The difference was not statistically significant, and did not approach the reductions seen in osteoporosis. However, the researchers point out that the men were relatively young—average 32 years—and that further bone weakening may occur with longer follow-up.

The results raise the possibility that bone density could be adversely affected by electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones. Studies are evaluating the use of electromagnetic fields as a treatment to increase bone density in osteoporosis. However, those studies have used very low frequencies of 15 to 52 MHz. In contrast, the men in the new study carried cell phones with frequencies of 900 to 1,800 MHz.

The ilac wings are a widely used source of bone for bone grafting, so any reduction in bone density may be of special importance to reconstructive surgery. At least in procedures where bone density is important for good outcomes, surgeons may want to consider the possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields from cell phones.

The researchers emphasize that their findings are preliminary. Coming generations of mobile technology may lead to the development of new cell phones with lower exposure to electromagnetic fields. Meanwhile, Dr. Atay and colleagues conclude, "It would be better to keep mobile phones as far as possible from our body during our daily lives."

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins