Don’t call me! Sperm quality and mobile phones

While the results are not conclusive, most studies on the hazards of mobile phone use have shown little evidence for physiological damage (such as increased cancer risk) due to long term phone use. The most obvious (and proven) danger is increased risk of driving accidents.

Hands free kits have reduced the risks of driving while on the phone, and are popularly (though not scientifically) believed to reduce the chance of brain tumours. But think about where men wear their phones. Most have them in pockets or on their belts. Even when not actually in use, mobile phones emit radio frequency electromagnetic radiation (RFEMR). This means that testicles could be taking a daily bath in radiation.

So what effect could this have on sperm quality (and why do we care?)

Firstly, why care?

It appears that semen quality has been in decline for at least the last 40 years. Not only has this led to higher levels of male infertility, it seems to go hand in hand with increased risk of testicular cancer and overall poorer male reproductive health. The reasons for this decline are not certain – environmental chemicals (such as oestrogen-like compounds or iodine), clothing changes (tighter, warmer pants), lifestyle changes (couch potato-ing) and radiation (such as from car engines) are all possible culprits.

Not only is fertility in possible peril, but sperm mutagens can cause serious birth defects in babies – if they are conceived. Not something that anyone would want.

So what can phones do?

Firstly some good news. Phones on a standby setting (while not actually receiving or making a call) have not been shown to have significant effects on sperm quality.

Phones during transmission may be a little more problematic.

Outside of the body, RFEMR of the strength found in mobile phones has been shown to reduce sperm motility.

In animal trials, results vary. Some studies show no loss of sperm quality after exposure to RFEMR, others show significant effects or trends on sperm motility and sperm count. One study of mouse fertility showed no obvious semen damage but significant sperm DNA damage after 7 days of 12 hours a day exposure.

In humans, increasing phone usage has been tied to increasing problems with sperm motility – the more you talk, the poorer the semen quality. In one study, one month of cell phone use (at 6 hours a day), reduced the proportion of rapid progressive sperm from 32% to 26%.

So what could be affecting sperm quality? When you talk on the phone, the phone is generally held near your head. Radiation could be affecting the genitalia directly, even from that distance, or the phone could be affecting hormone producing areas of the brain, indirectly affecting semen production.

The evidence is still equivocal, but for those really long, seductive conversations you might be better using a land line (at the very least it will reduce your mobile bill). But make sure that land line is really a land line – cordless phones can produce more radiation than mobiles!

References

Aitken RJ, Bennetts LE, Sawyer D, Wiklendt AM, King BV.(2005) Impact of radio frequency electromagnetic radiation on DNA integrity in the male germline. Int J Androl. 28(3):171-9.Derias EM, Stefanis P, Drakeley A, Gazvani R, Lewis-Jones DI (2006) Growing concern over the safety of using mobile phones and male fertility. Arch Androl.52(1):9-14.

Erogul O, Oztas E, Yildirim I, Kir T, Aydur E, Komesli G, Irkilata HC, Irmak MK, Peker AF(2006) Effects of electromagnetic radiation from a cellular phone on human sperm motility: an in vitro study. Arch Med Res. 37(7):840-3.

Fejes I, Zavaczki Z, Szollosi J, Koloszar S, Daru J, Kovacs L, Pal A. (2005) Is there a relationship between cell phone use and semen quality? Arch Androl. 51(5):385-93.

Irvine DS. (2000) Male reproductive health: cause for concern? Andrologia. 32(4-5):195-208.

Moulder JE, Foster KR, Erdreich LS, McNamee JP. (2005) Mobile phones, mobile phone base stations and cancer: a review. Int J Radiat Biol. 81(3):189-203.

Munshi A, Jalali R. (2002) Cellular phones and their hazards: the current evidence. Natl Med J India. 15(5):275-7.

Ribeiro EP, Rhoden EL, Horn MM, Rhoden C, Lima LP, Toniolo L. (2007) Effects of subchronic exposure to radio frequency from a conventional cellular telephone on testicular function in adult rats. J Urol. 177(1):395-9.

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2 Comments

Filed under Curious Science, Science

2 responses to “Don’t call me! Sperm quality and mobile phones

  1. Cell Phone Radiation and the Increase in Brain Cancer
    people appear to have an almost pathological emotional attachment to their cell phones and there is a fascinating suggestion that cell radiation pulses might actually be addictive to the human brain
    for more information visit this site

    Cellphoneradiation

  2. Your link appears to be broken. Do you have a reference for the idea of an addiction to radiation pulses? I haven’t found anything yet.

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