October 23

Flashback Friday: Do Cell Phones Lower Sperm Counts? & Does Laptop WiFi Lower Sperm Counts?


Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Are men talking their reproductive health away?” There have been “unexplained declines in semen quality reported in several countries.” Might cell phones be playing a role, as “[r]adio-frequency electromagnetic radiation from these devices could potentially affect sperm development and function.” The cell phone industry bristles at the “r-word,” radiation, preferring the more innocuous sounding “RF-EMF”s. They do have a point, though, about it being used by snake-oil hucksters of “radiation protection” gadgets. Radiation need not be atomic-bomb gamma rays, but just the warm glow of sunshine on your face; that’s radiation, too. The question is: does the specific type of radiation emitted by cell phones affect male fertility?

After the “World Health Organization…declared that cell phones [could possibly] cause brain cancer,” many folks were like, no problem, I’ll just keep it in my pants and use Bluetooth or something. Away from the brain, but “close to the gonads.” Put all the studies together, including nearly 1,500 semen samples and: “Exposure to mobile phones was associated with reduced sperm motility…and viability…,” though not necessarily sperm concentration.”

How much less could they swim? Sperm motility only appeared to be about 8% less, and so that alone may not actually translate into reduced fertility—unless you’re starting out with a marginal sperm count in the first place. So, especially for men who already have fertility problems, it might be better to avoid keeping an active cell phone next to your crotch for long periods of time. Cell phones may just be one of a bunch of things that could potentially add up. For example, Wi-Fi may be an issue. So, researchers got semen samples from more than a thousand guys, and the total number of swimmers? “[M]otile sperm were decreased in a group who used a wireless internet.”

Okay, but these were all just observational studies. Maybe men who use Wi-Fi just tend to smoke more, or do more horseback riding, or something—and that’s the reason for the apparent link. You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

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Unfortunately, many of the studies are like this: on rats. So, while the microwaves emitted from a cell phone do not appear to affect rat testicles, it can be argued that you can’t necessarily extrapolate from these animal models, since, for example, their scrotums are “nonpendulous”—meaning their testicles are more inside their bodies rather than out swinging around.

So, at least “[u]ntil proven otherwise, it is recommended that [men] with…fertility issues” may not want to keep their cell phones in their front pants pocket, “in close proximity to the[ir] testicles.” Even when not in use, cell phones emit radiation—to keep pinging their location, though the main exposure is during talk mode, where it may still remain in the pocket, thanks to headsets these days.

And then, what happens when you have it in proximity to other common metal objects? Here’s a cross-section at crotch level. There’s the phone. You may have a metal zipper, key ring in your pocket. “When all three objects were added, the SAR [the amount of radiation absorbed into]…the testicles, was generally increased…[even] approximately doubled.”

But, that’s only a problem if the radiation does actually damage sperm. How hard is it to just design a study where you just wave a cell phone over some human sperm in a Petri dish to see if it’s an issue? And…here we go. Significantly more DNA fragmentation in sperm exposed to cell phone radiation, starting within an hour of exposure. Such a dramatic effect that they suggest women might not want to pocket their cell phones for a few days after trying to get pregnant, so as to not put the sperm at further risk.

“It is impossible to imagine a modern socially-active man who does not use [cell phones] and…Wi-Fi…” Might that be “harmful for male fertility…?” In my last video, I talked about how the sperm of men who use Wi-Fi tend to not be getting along as swimmingly well, but that was an observational study. You don’t really know if Wi-Fi actually damages sperm until you put it to the test.

The title kind of gives it all away, but basically, “this [was] the first study to evaluate the direct impact of laptop use on human sperm….” Here’s the DNA fragmentation in samples near and far away from a laptop with an active Wi-Fi connection—suggesting one might not want to position a Wi-Fi device “near the male reproductive organs.”

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Yeah, Wi-Fi exposure may decrease human sperm motility, and increase sperm DNA fragmentation, but the effect is minor. I mean, is having 10% fewer good swimmers really going to make a difference? Fertile men release hundreds of millions. What has yet to be done is a study looking at bouncing baby endpoints—do men randomized to a certain exposure have a tougher time having children? It’s actually a harder study to perform than one might think. You can’t just have men avoid cell phones and laptops for a day. Yes, we make millions of new sperm a day, but they take months to mature. The sperm with which you conceive today started as a preconceived notion months before. So, you can imagine why such a study has yet to be done: you’d have to randomize men to essentially avoid wireless communications completely, or maybe come up with some kind of Faraday-cage underwear.

Another reason why one may not want to use a laptop computer on your lap is just the heat generated by the laptop itself—Wi-Fi or not—[can warm men’s scrotums], undermining the whole point of scrotum possession in the first place. This all dates back to a famous series of experiments back in 1968.

It was an illuminating study, one might say. Sometimes, they’d add a reflector to boost the heat, “though the bulb alone was just as effective,” but they had to move it closer to the skin. Much simpler, but more likely to result in a Jerry Lee Lewis song. (“Great Balls of Fire!”)

But now, we have nice cool fluorescents. But, heated car seats remain a “testicular heat stress factor.” Saunas aren’t a good idea for men trying to conceive. Sperm counts before, and after—apparently cutting sperm production in half—and still down, three months later. But apparent full recovery by six months. But, that’s why boxers, not briefs—or, go all commando. Who makes money on that, though? That’s why we need a “scrotal cooling device” industry, though this review noted that “more acceptable scrotal cooling techniques” really need to be developed. Why? Whatever are they referring to?

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It seems the devices currently on the market are not so practical, day to day. There’s the “curved rubber collar filled with ice cubes.” Another was just like a freezer gel pack inserted in the guy’s underwear every night. Not to worry though; it thaws in three to four hours, tops. Holy Snowballs, Batman!

Do not, I repeat, do not put an ice pack on your scrotum. A few frozen peas and carrots, and you can frostbite yourself. See, sometimes, even vegetables can be bad for you. Then, there’s the schvitzer that keeps the scrotum damp, and finally, attached with a belt, achievement of scrotal cooling with “a continuous air stream.”

With so many options to choose from, do laptop users really need protection from scrotal hyperthermia? You don’t know, until you put it to the test. And indeed, an “[i]ncrease in scrotal temperature [was] found in laptop computer users”—scrotal temperatures up a feverish five degrees Fahrenheit.

A little scrotal warmth doesn’t sound that bad, though. Then, I read this case report: “a previously healthy 50-year-old scientist,” typing out a report one evening. “Sitting comfortably in [his favorite] …chair,…laptop [in] lap,” but woke up the next day with blisters—penile and scrotal blisters that then broke, and “developed into infected wounds that caused extensive [oozing pus].”

Even third-degree burns have been reported, requiring surgical intervention with skin grafts. The guy drank 12 units of vodka, and passed out while watching a film on his lap, and the laptop burned through his leg. The surgeons call for “a public education campaign” to educate the public “against the risks of using a laptop in its most literal sense.” Uh, how about educating the public instead against drinking 12 units of vodka?

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