Do cell phones affect sperm count?

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A new study indicates that cell phone radiation might cause male fertility issues

Do cell phones affect sperm count

Since the introduction of cell phones, some have warned that their radiation might cause all kinds of health issues. Cell phones emit low levels of radio frequency (RF) energy, a type of non-ionizing radiation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes there is no scientific evidence that links exposure to radio frequency (RF) energy from cell phone usage with any health problems at or below the RF exposure limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). All wireless devices sold in the US go through a formal FCC approval process to ensure that they do not exceed federal exposure limits when operating at the device’s highest possible power level.

Like the FDA, the FCC maintains that there is no scientific evidence that establishes a definitive link between wireless devices to cancer or other illnesses. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) concurs and holds that there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk in humans.

Some consumers remain skeptical of the science and the analysis that underlies the FDA, FCC and NCI’s RF exposure guidelines.

The University of Basel in Switzerland

Over the last 50 years, sperm counts have lowered significantly, with the average count per milliliter dropping from 99 million to just 47 million. There have been many studies that seem to demonstrate a link between cell phone use and low sperm count. However, they weren't extensive enough to be conclusive or withstand professional criticism.

"Previous studies evaluating the relationship between the use of mobile phones and semen quality were performed on a relatively small number of individuals, rarely considering lifestyle information, and have been subject to selection bias, as they were recruited in fertility clinics," Rita Tahban, a genetic medicine researcher at the University of Basel (UB), said in a recent press release.

Tahban is the first author and co-leader of a new UB study published in the journal Fertility & Sterility. The study was conducted by research teams in the Swiss cities of Basel and Geneva. The cooperative investigation differs from previous studies because of its longitudinal span and considerable number of participants. It was conducted over 13 years, between 2005 and 2018, and looked at nearly 3,000 men who were aged 18-22 at the start of the research.

The researchers established a link between frequent cell phone use and low sperm counts, with the most frequent users (those who used their phones more than 20 times a day) having the lowest sperm counts (44.5 million per/ml). They noted that over time, as cellular technology improved, those correlations seem to ease.

"This trend corresponds to the transition from 2G to 3G, and then from 3G to 4G, that has led to a reduction in the transmitting power of phones — and thus their electromagnetic radiation," Martin Röösli, an associate professor with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the University of Basel, said in a report of their findings.

In future studies, the researchers plan to look not just at frequency of phone use cross-referenced with sperm counts over time, but also at the type of phone usage men engage in because some activities, like text messaging, emit lower electromagnetic waves than, say, streaming.

As such, Tabahn offered further queries: "Do the microwaves emitted by mobile phones have a direct or indirect effect? Do they cause a significant increase in temperature in the testes? Do they affect the hormonal regulation of sperm production?" 

The landmark study may only be the beginning of productive research into the topic.

The FDA has not published a response to the UB study. It states on their website that the weight of nearly 30 years of scientific evidence has not linked health problems to exposure to RF energy from use of cell phones. Further, their analysis of public health data on the US population demonstrates no widespread rise in health problems, specifically cancer and brain disease, in the last 30 years despite the enormous increase in cell phone use during this period.

Some measures to reduce your RF exposure include:

  • Reduce the amount of time spent using your wireless device.
  • Use a speakerphone, earpiece or headset to reduce proximity to the head (and thus head exposure). While wired earpieces may conduct some energy to the head and wireless earpieces also emit a small amount of RF energy, both wired and wireless earpieces remove the greatest source of RF energy (the cell phone or handheld device) from proximity to the head and thus can greatly reduce total exposure to the head.
  • Increase the distance between wireless devices and your body.
  • Consider texting rather than talking - but don’t text while you are driving.

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