Do Cell Phones Lower Sperm Counts?

Do Cell Phones Lower Sperm Counts?
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What is the effect of cell phone radiation on sperm motility and DNA damage?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Are men talking their reproductive health away?” There have been “unexplained declines in semen quality reported in several countries.” Might cell phones be playing a role, as “[r]adio-frequency electromagnetic radiation from these devices could potentially affect sperm development and function.” The cell phone industry bristles at the “r-word,” radiation, preferring the more innocuous sounding “RF-EMF”s. They do have a point, though, about it being used by snake-oil hucksters of “radiation protection” gadgets. Radiation need not be atomic-bomb gamma rays, but just the warm glow of sunshine on your face; that’s radiation, too. The question is: does the specific type of radiation emitted by cell phones affect male fertility?

After the “World Health Organization…declared that cell phones [could possibly] cause brain cancer,” many folks were like, no problem, I’ll just keep it in my pants and use Bluetooth or something. Away from the brain, but “close to the gonads.” Put all the studies together, including nearly 1,500 semen samples and: “Exposure to mobile phones was associated with reduced sperm motility…and viability…,” though not necessarily sperm concentration.”

How much less could they swim? Sperm motility only appeared to be about 8% less, and so that alone may not actually translate into reduced fertility—unless you’re starting out with a marginal sperm count in the first place. So, especially for men who already have fertility problems, it might be better to avoid keeping an active cell phone next to your crotch for long periods of time. Cell phones may just be one of a bunch of things that could potentially add up. For example, Wi-Fi may be an issue. So, researchers got semen samples from more than a thousand guys, and the total number of swimmers? “[M]otile sperm were decreased in a group who used a wireless internet.”

Okay, but these were all just observational studies. Maybe men who use Wi-Fi just tend to smoke more, or do more horseback riding, or something—and that’s the reason for the apparent link. You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Unfortunately, many of the studies are like this: on rats. So, while the microwaves emitted from a cell phone do not appear to affect rat testicles, it can be argued that you can’t necessarily extrapolate from these animal models, since, for example, their scrotums are “nonpendulous”—meaning their testicles are more inside their bodies rather than out swinging around.

So, at least “[u]ntil proven otherwise, it is recommended that [men] with…fertility issues” may not want to keep their cell phones in their front pants pocket, “in close proximity to the[ir] testicles.” Even when not in use, cell phones emit radiation—to keep pinging their location, though the main exposure is during talk mode, where it may still remain in the pocket, thanks to headsets these days.

And then, what happens when you have it in proximity to other common metal objects? Here’s a cross-section at crotch level. There’s the phone. You may have a metal zipper, key ring in your pocket. “When all three objects were added, the SAR [the amount of radiation absorbed into]…the testicles, was generally increased…[even] approximately doubled.”

But, that’s only a problem if the radiation does actually damage sperm. How hard is it to just design a study where you just wave a cell phone over some human sperm in a Petri dish to see if it’s an issue? And…here we go. Significantly more DNA fragmentation in sperm exposed to cell phone radiation, starting within an hour of exposure. Such a dramatic effect that they suggest women might not want to pocket their cell phones for a few days after trying to get pregnant, so as to not put the sperm at further risk.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Martin Abegglen via flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Are men talking their reproductive health away?” There have been “unexplained declines in semen quality reported in several countries.” Might cell phones be playing a role, as “[r]adio-frequency electromagnetic radiation from these devices could potentially affect sperm development and function.” The cell phone industry bristles at the “r-word,” radiation, preferring the more innocuous sounding “RF-EMF”s. They do have a point, though, about it being used by snake-oil hucksters of “radiation protection” gadgets. Radiation need not be atomic-bomb gamma rays, but just the warm glow of sunshine on your face; that’s radiation, too. The question is: does the specific type of radiation emitted by cell phones affect male fertility?

After the “World Health Organization…declared that cell phones [could possibly] cause brain cancer,” many folks were like, no problem, I’ll just keep it in my pants and use Bluetooth or something. Away from the brain, but “close to the gonads.” Put all the studies together, including nearly 1,500 semen samples and: “Exposure to mobile phones was associated with reduced sperm motility…and viability…,” though not necessarily sperm concentration.”

How much less could they swim? Sperm motility only appeared to be about 8% less, and so that alone may not actually translate into reduced fertility—unless you’re starting out with a marginal sperm count in the first place. So, especially for men who already have fertility problems, it might be better to avoid keeping an active cell phone next to your crotch for long periods of time. Cell phones may just be one of a bunch of things that could potentially add up. For example, Wi-Fi may be an issue. So, researchers got semen samples from more than a thousand guys, and the total number of swimmers? “[M]otile sperm were decreased in a group who used a wireless internet.”

Okay, but these were all just observational studies. Maybe men who use Wi-Fi just tend to smoke more, or do more horseback riding, or something—and that’s the reason for the apparent link. You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Unfortunately, many of the studies are like this: on rats. So, while the microwaves emitted from a cell phone do not appear to affect rat testicles, it can be argued that you can’t necessarily extrapolate from these animal models, since, for example, their scrotums are “nonpendulous”—meaning their testicles are more inside their bodies rather than out swinging around.

So, at least “[u]ntil proven otherwise, it is recommended that [men] with…fertility issues” may not want to keep their cell phones in their front pants pocket, “in close proximity to the[ir] testicles.” Even when not in use, cell phones emit radiation—to keep pinging their location, though the main exposure is during talk mode, where it may still remain in the pocket, thanks to headsets these days.

And then, what happens when you have it in proximity to other common metal objects? Here’s a cross-section at crotch level. There’s the phone. You may have a metal zipper, key ring in your pocket. “When all three objects were added, the SAR [the amount of radiation absorbed into]…the testicles, was generally increased…[even] approximately doubled.”

But, that’s only a problem if the radiation does actually damage sperm. How hard is it to just design a study where you just wave a cell phone over some human sperm in a Petri dish to see if it’s an issue? And…here we go. Significantly more DNA fragmentation in sperm exposed to cell phone radiation, starting within an hour of exposure. Such a dramatic effect that they suggest women might not want to pocket their cell phones for a few days after trying to get pregnant, so as to not put the sperm at further risk.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Martin Abegglen via flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

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