Higher cell phone usage associated with lower sperm count in new study
A study of nearly 3,000 Swiss men over the course of 13 years has shown a link between frequent cell phone use and a decrease in sperm quantity. What's more, today's 4G and 5G networks may have less of an impact than older communications technology.
In undertaking the study, researchers from the University of Geneva, along with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, looked at data from 2,886 men aged between 18 and 22. All of the men were recruited at six different military conscription centers between 2005 and 2018. According to the team, this was the largest cross-sectional study to examine cell phone usage patterns and sperm count.
The researchers found that men who used their phones more than 20 times per day had a median sperm count of 44.5 million/mL. This was 21% lower than in men who only used their phones once a week, whose median sperm count clocked in at 56.5 million/mL. Sperm motility and shape was not affected regardless of phone usage.
The study was carried out in three different phases over time. The first period lasted from 2005-2007; the second ran from 2008-2011; and the third spanned the years between 2012-2018. This allowed the researchers to come to another conclusion. They found that the association between frequent cell phone use and lower sperm count has actually become less pronounced over time, even though there is an overall global downward trend in mens' sperm count. One theory for this is that older mobile phone technology such as 2G and 3G had higher transmitting power than today's phones, and that the electromagnetic fields produced could have caused the sperm count reduction.
Cell phone use was self-reported through questionnaires, which the study authors admit is an issue, as self-reporting can be notoriously unreliable. But they point out that another study is currently underway that will measure electromagnetic waves, plus the way in which men use their phones (messaging, navigation, calls, etc) and apply those findings to overall sperm count.
The researchers also point out that while they found this association, it's not necessarily causal, meaning that it is hard to say definitively that more cell phone use decreases sperm count as other factors might come into play.
Still, scientists not associated with the research say that both the published and the ongoing study hold value.
"There are likely to be numerous confounding factors which the authors, and future researchers, will be able to investigate such as the hypothesis that increased use of the phone being associated with anxiety which is then the cause of lower sperm quality," says Malcom Sperrin, from the UK's Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. "This paper is a good driver to more research in this very difficult area.”
Alison Campbell, the Chief Scientific Officer at Care Fertility, a network of fertility clinics in the UK adds that men shouldn't panic or drastically change their cell phone usage until more data arrives.
“This is a fascinating and novel study which should not cause alarm or drastic changes in habits," she said. "Men looking to conceive, or wanting to improve their sperm health should exercise (but not overheat in their groin area), eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking and limit alcohol and seek help if they are having problems conceiving.”
Campbell was also not involved in the research, which has been published in the journal Fertility & Sterility.