Cell Phone Use Could Damage Semen

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ATLANTA—Men who keep cell phones in a trouser pocket in the talk mode while using a Bluetooth device may experience decreased fertility, according to researchers.

“We found increased oxidative stress and a decrease in sperm motility,” said investigator Ashok Agarwal, PhD, Director of Reproductive Research at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. 

Dr. Agarwal and his colleagues conducted a prospective, controlled trial looking at the effects of Bluetooth technology on male fertility.  Dr. Agarwal, who presented the study findings here at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual meeting, said carrying a cell phone in a trouser pocket while talking on a Bluetooth device may expose the human testes to high-power radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) when the phone is in the talk mode.

In a recent in vitro study, the researchers found an increased production of free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) in semen after exposing semen to RF-EMW emitted by a cell phone. The team realized, however, that it is difficult to estimate the accurate amount of RF-EMW exposure to human testes because testes are separated by scrotal layers from the cell phone.

They used a computer biomodeling program to calculate the distance in an in vitro experiment. The experiment was designed to mimic the RF-EMW exposure while a cell phone is kept in the trouser pocket (in the talk mode). For their new investigation, the researchers examined the effect of RF-EMW exposure on sperm parameters at a specific distance and identified the type of free radicals produced by human sperm.

After liquefaction, 17 semen samples were divided into two aliquots. One aliquot (experimental) from each patient was exposed to cell phone radiation (while the phone was in talk mode) for 60 minutes and a second unexposed aliquot served as the control under identical conditions, including a temperature of 69 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr. Agarwal's group used computational biomodeling to calculate the distance of 3.3 cm between the antenna and the sample tube center. The investigators then looked at the percentage of sperm motility and viability. ROS production in the semen specimens was measured using lucigenin (extracellular) and flow cytometry (intracellular).

The investigators found RF-EMW exposed semen samples showed significantly lower sperm motility and viability. The exposed samples also showed an 18% increased production of extracellular seminal ROS compared with the non-exposed semen samples.  The investigators concluded that the significant decline in sperm quality in specimens exposed to RF-EMW may be mediated by increased ROS production.

They hypothesized that when a man talks on a Bluetooth and the cell phone is on talk mode in the pocket or attached to a belt, it might be dangerous and could cause infertility. Dr. Agarwal told Renal & Urology News, that “we do feel further studies are needed. At this time I would say excessive use should be avoided.  However, there is a need for new studies to prove our in vitro findings in an in vivo condition.”

Two studies from the Cleveland Clinic in the past three years have shown the harmful effects of cell phone-generated electromagnetic radiation on semen quality. In recent years more than a dozen studies have been published by other groups supporting Cleveland Clinic's findings.

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