During the past decade a number of studies have made headlines after establishing a link between cell phone use and brain tumors.

While detractors are still arguing over the methodology and conclusions of these studies, new research is highlighting a completely different risk associated with cell phone use: cardiovascular health.

A new study published in European Heart Journal–Digital Health concludes that using a mobile phone for just 30 minutes a week increases the risk of high blood pressure.

The long-term study, which tracked 212,000 people for 12 years, found that people whose total time talking on a cell phone each week exceeded 30 minutes saw their risk for hypertension rise by 12 percent. Moreover, spending six hours a week on the phone raised this risk by 25 percent.

Worldwide health threat

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is on the rise with rates more than doubling in the past three decades. Researchers involved in the new study note that increased cell phone use is no doubt one of the contributing causes.

Almost three-quarters of the global population over the age of 10 own a mobile phone, according to estimates. Nearly 1.3 billion adults between 30 and 79 have high blood pressure, compared to fewer than 600 million in the 1970s.

“The number of minutes spent talking on a mobile phone matters for heart health, with more minutes meaning greater risk,” says study author Professor Xianhui Qin of Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China.

Furthermore, the likelihood of developing high blood pressure rose by 33 percent for those with a high genetic risk who spent at least 30 minutes a week talking on a mobile phone. Overall, mobile phone users had a seven-percent higher risk than non-users.

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But there is some good news, according to Professor Qin, for those who limit their cell phone use to just their most vital communications each week: “Our findings suggest that talking on a mobile phone may not affect the risk of developing high blood pressure as long as weekly call time is kept below half an hour.”

It is believed that the electromagnetic fields emitted by phones are behind the deadly results tracked by the researchers. Electromagnetic radiation has previously been linked to brain tumors.

Study details

The Chinese team analyzed data from over 212,000 individuals over the age of 30 from the UK Biobank, a database containing genetic and other health information on around half a million British people.

Study participants were aged 37 to 73 years and had to be free of hypertension at the beginning of the study. Participants who used a mobile phone at least once a week to make or receive calls were defined as mobile phone users.

Information on the use of a mobile phone to make and receive calls was collected through a self-reported touchscreen questionnaire at baseline, including years of use, hours per week, and using a hands-free device/speakerphone.

The researchers determined risk factors by comparing users in different ranges of time against the baseline participants who spent less than five minutes per week making or receiving calls. The risk increase ranged from 8% to 25%:

Cell phone use time of 30-59 minutes per week — an increased risk of 8%
Cell phone use time of one to three hours per week — an increased risk of 13%
Cell phone use time of four to six hours per week — an increased risk of 16%
Cell phone use time of more than six hours per week — an increased risk of 25%

Mobile phones emit low levels of radiofrequency energy, which studies have linked to increases in blood pressure after short-term exposure, Prof. Qin explains. Results of previous studies on mobile phone use and blood pressure have been inconsistent, possibly because they included time spent answering calls, texting, and gaming.

Other health issues linked to cell phone radiation include headaches, anxiety, insomnia and brain tumors. These are specific health issues attributed to radiation, and are separate from “smart phone health issues”—such as social media-induced depression and eye damage caused by blue light emissions.

The reseachers acknowledged that their new study needs to be coroborated by follow-up studies; however, they are confident that their findings will be duplicated, and that consumers will eventually become aware of the risks of over-using cell phones.

“More research is needed to replicate the results, but until then, it seems prudent to minimize mobile phone calls to preserve heart health,” Qin concludes.

The findings are published in May 2023 in the European Heart Journal–Digital Health, the official digital health journal of the European Society of Cardiology. It covers the whole sphere of cardiovascular medicine, from all perspectives of digital health.

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Sources: European Heart Journal (EurekAlert.org).