Mobile phones and the testicular conundrum

10-08-2015 |   |  By Paul Whytock

The same old question keeps rumbling on; can keeping mobile phones in trouser pockets cause male infertility? The straight answer is no one is entirely sure but new medical research is adding further fuel to the fire of this burning question.

But before looking at that, recent life style analysis from the US about the ever-increasing use of mobile phones also highlights an increased probability of the problem occurring.

In American homes nearly 40% of occupants now only use mobile phones and have scrapped using landline connections altogether. Further analysis has shown that over 60% of young adults aged up to approximately 30 years who are living with people of similar age rely on mobile phone connection. So mobile phone usage continues its steady upward trend.

Reduced sperm count

But here's just one of the medical warnings shooting across the bows of male fertility. A study published in the scientific journal PLOS One showed that exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) from cell phones lowered sperm mobility by 8%. Previous studies have also found that mobile phone radiation can have a detrimental effect on sperm count. One such study found that RF-EMR in mobile phones enhances mitochondrial reactive oxygen species generation by human sperm decreasing both the mobility and vitality of these cells while stimulating DNA fragmentation.

In addition to those findings the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) demonstrated in a study that rats exposed to RF-EMR exhibited significantly reduced sperm mobility and concluded that RF-EMR from mobile phones negatively affects semen quality and may impair male fertility.

A further study at the University of Exeter study concluded that men who keep a mobile phone in their trouser pocket could be damaging their chances of becoming a father.

Most men of reproductive age in developed countries now own a mobile phone and around 14% of couples in industrialized countries have difficulty conceiving. Male infertility is involved approximately 40% of the time.

Lead author of this study, Dr Fiona Mathews, believes that being exposed to radio frequency electromagnetic radiation from carrying mobiles in trouser pockets negatively affects sperm quality.

To try and clarify the potential role of mobile phone exposure Dr Mathews conducted a systematic review of the findings from 10 studies, including 1,492 samples.

Participants in the studies were from fertility clinics and research centres, and sperm quality was measured in three different ways; mobility, viability and concentration.

In control groups, 50-85% of sperm have normal movement. The researchers found this proportion fell by an average of 8% when there was exposure to RF-EMR from mobile phones. Similar effects were seen for sperm viability. "Given the enormous scale of mobile phone use around the world, the potential role of this environmental exposure to mobile phone radiation needs to be clarified," said Dr Matthews.

Not everyone agrees

There is an undeniable logic to that view but not everyone in the world of academia agrees that a mobile phone in your pocket will damage male reproductive ability. Dr Allan Pacey from the Department of Human Metabolism at the University of Sheffield has said that until the situation is clarified he'll keep his iPhone in his trouser pocket. In his view there have been some crazy and alarming headlines on this subject and he believes the studies undertaken to date have been somewhat limited. That’s because they have either kept sperm in a dish and irradiated at frequencies used by mobile phones, which is unrealistic, or they have made assessments of men's phone habits without adequately considering other aspects of their lifestyle.

So where do us guys go from here? Personally I'm sticking with the Dr Pacey view and will be keeping my phone right where it normally is, in my jean pocket. But I do think more research into this serious subject should be performed but of course this takes time and serious sponsorship money and, when it comes to the latter, wouldn't it be a nice surprise if that came from the telecommunications sector.


By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is Technology Correspondent for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over thirty years. Prior to entering journalism, he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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