Dr. Joel Moskowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health, UC Berkeley Prevention Research Center, School of Public Health
Today the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a review of ten studies that found cell phone radiation damages human sperm.*
“EWG scientists have analyzed 10 scientific studies documenting evidence that cell phone radiation exposure leads to slower, fewer and shorter-lived sperm. The studies raise concerns for men who carry their phones on their belts or in pants pockets.”
The EWG asked me to serve as an external reviewer because I disseminated a review paper on this topic published online by the Journal of Andrology last July. This paper was recently published in the print version of the Journal.** Although, only two media sources in the U.S. covered this issue last summer, Men’s Health and CNET (articles below), the CNET article was reprinted on more than 100 news web sites in six countries. Unfortunately for public health in the U.S., our news media have been more reluctant to report on health risks associated with cell phone use as compared to other countries.
I hope the our news media do a better job in covering the sperm damage issue because infertility is a common problem here. Moreover, men just need to take simple precautions to reduce potential harm from cell phone use.
Studies linking cell phone exposure to harmful effects on sperm have been done in the United States, Australia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and South Africa, using diverse methodologies. In some, scientists compared sperm counts and sperm health in men who wore cell phones on the hip with those who carried them elsewhere on the body or did not use cell phones at all. In others, researchers exposed sperm to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions. In still others, scientists examined whether there was a correlation between sperm health and the intensity of cell phone use among men undergoing evaluation for infertility.
Among the findings:
a.. Men who carried a phone in a hip pocket or on the belt had 11 percent fewer mobile sperm than men who kept a phone elsewhere on the body (Kilgallon 2005).
b.. Men who carried a cell phone on the belt and used it intensively during a five-day test period had a 19 percent drop in highly motile sperm from their previous levels (Davoudi 2002).
c.. Men who talked on the phone for more than an hour a day had 17 percent fewer highly motile sperm than men who talked less than 15 minutes a day (Fejes 2005).
Laboratory studies on the effects of cell phone radiation on rats, rabbits and other animals have found similar effects on reproductive health (Kesari 2011; Mailankot 2009).
All these studies found statistically significant correlations between cell phone radiation and sperm health, and many found that the adverse changes increased with the amount of radiation exposure. Opinions differ as to the possible mechanism by which cell phone radiation might produce these changes (Falzone 2010).
A number of research papers include unambiguous statements on the potential of cell phone radiation to affect men’s reproductive health:
a.. “Keeping the cell phone in a trouser pocket in talk mode may negatively affect spermatozoa and impair male fertility” (Agarwal 2009).
b.. “Use of cell phones decreases the semen quality in men by decreasing the sperm count, motility, viability and normal morphology. The decrease in sperm parameters was dependent on the duration of daily exposure to cell phones and independent of the initial semen quality” (Agarwal 2008).
c.. “These findings have clear implications for the safety of extensive mobile phone use by males of reproductive age, potentially affecting both their fertility and the health and wellbeing of their offspring” (De Iuliis 2009).
d.. “Overall, these findings raise a number of related health policy and patient management issues that deserve our immediate attention. Specifically, we recommend that men of reproductive age who engage in high levels of mobile phone use do not keep their phones in receiving mode below waist level” (De Iuliis 2009).
e.. “Our results showed that cell phone use negatively affects sperm quality in men… Men with poor sperm quality planning for pregnancy should be advised not to use cell phones extensively” (Gutschi 2011).
f.. “The results show that human spermatozoa exposed to RF-EMR have decreased motility, morphometric abnormalities and increased oxidative stress, whereas men using mobile phones have decreased sperm concentration, motility…, normal morphology, and viability. These abnormalities seem to be directly related with the length of mobile phone use” (La Vignera 2012).
Given the backdrop of increasing infertility rates (Swan 2006), the research findings should be a wake-up call to male cell phone users who are trying to have children or may want to in the future.
Even as scientists continue to gather new data on health risks from cell phone radiation, the findings underscore that consumers should practice simple, precautionary safe-cell-phone-use habits, such as keeping the phone away from the body, in order to protect their health and fertility. Men, in particular, should avoid carrying a cell phone on the belt or in a pants pocket when in use.
Reference Study design Finding Type of exposure
Davoudi M, Brossner C, Kuber W. 2002. The influence of electromagnetic waves on sperm motility. Journal für Urologie und Urogynäkologie 19: 19-22. Semen analysis for 13 male volunteers who carried a cell phone on the belt and actively used it for 5 days. Compared to a period of cell phone use on the belt by the same volunteers, cell phone use was associated with decreased sperm motility. The percentage of highly motile sperm (classified as “rapid progressive sperm”) dropped from a mean of 32% to a mean of 26% after the exposure. GSM phone; study participants used phones for at least 6 hours/day.
Fejes I, Zavaczki Z, Szollosi J, Koloszar S, Daru J, Kovacs L, et al. 2005. Is there a relationship between cell phone use and semen quality? Arch Androl 51(5): 385-93. Semen analysis for 371 men who attended an infertility clinic in 2002-2004. Low-volume cell phone users (less than 15 minutes a day) had a higher percentage of rapid progressive motile sperm (48.7%) than high-volume (more than one hour a day) cell phone users (40.6%). Pattern of use identified by a questionnaire, including duration of phone possession and frequency of daily use.
Kilgallon SJ, Simmons LW. 2005. Image content influences men’s semen quality. Biol Lett 1(3): 253-5. Analysis of sperm samples from 52 healthy men aged 18-35. Men who carried a cell phone in a hip pocket or on the belt had lower sperm motility (49.3% motile sperm) than men who did not use a cell phone near the hip (55.4% motile sperm). Questionnaire responses identified men who carried a cell phone in a hip pocket or on the belt, non-users and those who kept a phone elsewhere.
Erogul O, Oztas E, Yildirim I, Kir T, Aydur E, Komesli G, et al. 2006. Effects of electromagnetic radiation from a cellular phone on human sperm motility: an in vitro study. Arch Med Res 37(7): 840-3. Semen samples collected from 27 men exposed to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions. Exposed specimens had a decrease in rapid progressive sperm from 13% to 9%; a decrease in slow progressive sperm from 44% to 34% and an increase in immotile sperm from 36% to 51%. Test specimens were exposed for 5 minutes to GSM cell phone radiation at 900 MHz.
Wdowiak A, Wdowiak L, Wiktor H. 2007. Evaluation of the effect of using mobile phones on male fertility. Ann Agric Environ Med 14(1): 169-72. Sperm parameters examined in a group of 304 males enrolled at an infertility clinic in 2004-2006. 16.7% of regular cell phone users had normal semen morphology, compared to 55.6% of non-users. In 35% of frequent cell phone users, sperm motility dropped by up to a half; only 9% of non-users had comparable decreases in sperm motility. Based on questionnaire responses, 99 participants were classified as cell phone non-users; 157 had used GSM phones sporadically for 1-2 years; and 48 had used cell phones regularly for more than 2 years.
Agarwal A, Deepinder F, Sharma RK, Ranga G, Li J. 2008. Effect of cell phone usage on semen analysis in men attending infertility clinic: an observational study. Fertil Steril 89(1): 124-8. Sperm parameters examined in 361 men undergoing infertility evaluation in 2004-2005 Patients who used cell phones more than 4 hours a day had a 42% lower sperm count and 33% lower sperm motility than non-users. The percentage of sperm with normal morphology in high-level users was half that of non-users. Rates of normal morphology were decreased with greater levels of cell phone use. Based on questionnaire responses, cell phone exposure was classified in four groups: no use; less than 2 hours/day; 2-4