Researchers in Geneva, Switzerland, found that men who frequently use mobile phones may have a higher risk of experiencing low sperm counts.
Worldwide, male sperm counts have declined by nearly 52% in the last 50 years. Though certain medications can lower sperm counts, many health experts believe environmental factors such as pollution and lifestyle habits like diet, stress, and smoking may be to blame. However, some also question whether cell phone use may play a role.
In a new study published on October 31 in Fertility and Sterility, scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) investigated whether cell phone usage impacts sperm.
To conduct the research, the scientists recruited 2,886 Swiss men during military service between 2005 and 2018.
The participants answered questionnaires regarding their health and lifestyle and how much time they spend using cell phones. They also reported where they carried the cell phone on the body. In addition, the participants used a home-based testing kit to collect semen samples, which they delivered to the research team.
Using the samples, the researchers determined the participants’ semen parameters such as volume, sperm concentration, total sperm count (TSC), motility, and morphology.
After adjusting the data for health and lifestyle factors, the team found that 18- to 22-year-old men who reported using a cell phone more than 20 times per day had a 21% higher chance of experiencing a low sperm count.
High cell phone use was also associated with a 30% increased risk of low sperm concentration.
However, the impact of cell phones on sperm decreases with time, which may reflect improvements in cell phone technology.
"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," said study author Martin RÖÖsli, Ph.D., an associate professor at Swiss TPH.
The scientists also observed no associations between cell phone use and sperm motility or structure.
Interestingly, carrying a cell phone in the pants pocket was not linked to lower semen parameters. However, the study's authors say they can't make definitive conclusions on whether the placement of a mobile phone impacts sperm because not many participants carried their phones close to the body.
This research, like most studies, had limitations. For example, the participants self-reported their cell phone use and used home testing kits to obtain semen samples for the researchers, which could impact the results.
To uncover more details, the scientists say a study launched in 2023 will examine the associations between sperm health, exposure to electromagnetic waves, and type of cell phone use such as calls, using apps, or texting.
Corresponding author Rita Rahban, Ph.D., a teaching assistant in the Department of Genetic Medicine and Development and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Geneva, remarked, "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? This all remains to be discovered."
- Human Reproduction Update. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis of samples collected globally in the 20th and 21st centuries.
- Fertility and Sterility. Association between self-reported mobile phone use and the semen quality of young men.
- University of Geneva. Mobile phone use may affect semen quality.