13 June 2011
Can using a cell phone make you infertile? A study conducted among men at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, in 2008 and other followup studies concluded that cell phone use does lower semen quality. Ashok Agarwal, head of the clinical andrology lab at Cleveland Clinic, in an email interview with Saira Kurup, advises men not to use their mobiles for long periods so that they maintain their reproductive health.
In general, a lot of in vitro and in vivo studies in human and animal have been conducted to examine the impact of cell phones on male infertility. The design and results obtained from these studies are controversial and as such, some studies support while others found no relation between cell phone and male fertility. With technological advances, there will be increases in the electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and base stations and these may raise the pathological consequences of cell phones on fertility. Taking into account the anatomical variation in the male gonads between animal species and humans, there is an urgent need for studies using real human models or protocols which can mimic human conditions more accurately.
The competition among phone companies and societal needs for better communication have led to contamination of our environment with relatively new types of pollutants i.e. electromagnetic waves.
What did you conclude from your 2008 study of 361 men? Have you done a follow-up study?
This was an observational study conducted on 361 infertile men. We reached a conclusion indicating that cell phone use decreases semen quality in men by decreasing the sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology. Such decrease in sperm parameters was dependent on the duration of daily exposure to cell phones and independent of the initial semen quality. Two follow up studies have been completed and published.
Has male infertility increased in the cell phone age, compared to the past?
The cell phone system, Analogue NMT (Nordic Mobile Telephone) system, was introduced in the 1980s, and operated at an electromagnetic resonance of 902.5 MHz. A decade later, the GSM (global system of mobile communications) succeeded it, operating at a radiofrequency of 902.4 MHz, pulsing at 217 Hz. The most recent DCS (digital cellular system) operates at a radiofrequency of 1800 MHz. Advances in cell phone telecommunication systems are obviously associated with an increasing signal frequency, which correlates with higher energy radiofrequency waves.
Recent epidemiological trends clearly demonstrate a decline in the last 10-15 years of semen quality in the United States and Western European countries. Consequently, WHO in its latest guidelines (5th Edition, published in 2010), announced lower cut off values of normality for semen parameters (sperm count, motility and morphology) than previously published (4th Edition, 1999) cut off values for semen samples. These recent observations present an evidence of correlation between the use of cell phone technology (and many other life style issues such as obesity, smoking, pollution, etc) and the decline in semen quality.
Have any links been found between mobile phone and testicular cancer?
Although there is convincing evidence of a correlation between cell phone and brain cancer, there is no conclusive evidence of the same correlation with testicular cancer. Interestingly from a theoretical point of view, such a relationship may exist, but further research is needed to prove or disprove this claim.
What would be your advice to men, young and old, who use mobiles frequently?
Reduce the use of cell phones.
Check the spontaneous absorption rate (SAR) of the cell phone, written on the cell phone itself. SAR measures the amount of radiation absorbed by the human body. It is better to use cell phones with SAR less than 1.6 watts per kilogram, suggested by Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
Keep the cell phone device away from the testes as proximity to gonads may increase the risk of exposure to radiation produced by the electromagnetic waves.