H, 33, was married for 5 years and had been actively trying to conceive for the past 3 years without success. Her husband’s semen analysis showed that the sperm count was on the low side of normal (reference to the WHO standard) while the sperm quality was normal. “Doc, my friend told me that according to a recent study in Europe, frequent use of a cell phone could affect the sperm count. Is it true?” She asked.
The impact of cellphones on male fertility has been a topic of interest and study in recent years. The widespread use of cellphones has raised concerns about the potential adverse effects of electromagnetic radiation emitted by these devices on reproductive health.
An electronic field
Cell phones are becoming indispensable in our lives. They emit low-level radio-frequency electromagnetic fields, or RF-EMF. They are constantly sending and receiving signals when in use. According to the California Department of Public Health, RF-EMF are found to be reduced when texting messages and are at their highest when downloading large files and streaming audio or video. When they emit at maximum power, they can heat up the surrounding tissue by 0.5 degrees Celsius.
Studies in mice have found RF-EMF at levels similar to cell phones do lower male fertility by causing sperm death and changes in the tissue of the testes. However, other animal studies have not confirmed these effects.
Studies in humans have focused on the ability of RF-EMF to penetrate body tissues including the testes. Some researchers suggest that carrying cell phones in pockets close to the groin area or prolonged usage could lead to an increase in the temperature of the scrotum. This may adversely affect sperm production and its quality.
Electromagnetic radiation may also induce oxidative stress within the body. This can cause an imbalance in the production of free radicals in our body. Sperm DNA could be damaged. Studies have suggested a correlation between cellphone radiation exposure and increased levels of oxidative stress markers in the semen.
Another possibility is that the RF-EMF could interfere with the connection between the pituitary gland in the brain and the testes, thus affecting sperm production.
A recent study by Swiss researchers (2023), using more than a decade's worth of data, found that young men who are heavy users of mobile phones have lower sperm concentrations and sperm counts than men who rarely do.
But scientists could not draw a direct cause-and-effect link between cellphones and male infertility.
Other studies have also indicated a potential link between cellphone use and sperm quality but the findings are not conclusive. The general consensus is that more research is needed to establish a definitive causal relationship.
As evidence linking cell phone use and declining male fertility is not definitive, I advised H’s husband to take some practical steps to minimize potential risks. These include:
· Using a hands-free device or speakerphone to reduce direct exposure to the groin area
· Avoiding carrying cell phones in pockets close to the genitals
· Taking regular breaks from prolonged cell phone use.
Additionally, adopting healthy habits, such as limiting prolonged exposure and maintaining proper cell phone placement, can be prudent measures.