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November 02, 2023

Using a cell phone often may impact one's sperm count, study finds

Operating a mobile device more than 20 times per day can lead to decreased semen quality, Swiss researchers say

Men's Health Fertility
Cell Phones Sperm Count Contributed image/Pexels

Swiss researchers have found a correlation between frequent mobile phone use and lower sperm concentrations in young men.

Using a cell phone often could have a negative effect on one's sperm count, according to a new study from Switzerland. 

Researchers analyzed data from 2005-2018 about men ages 18-22 and found that those who used their cell phones at least 20 times per day had a 21% decrease in sperm concentration compared to those who used their phones less than once a day.

Where men kept their phones did not affect sperm count, the research shows. This means having a phone in one's pocket should not harm one's fertility. 

Because the study's data was self-reported — through a questionnaire about lifestyle habits, physical health and cell phone use — there are limitations to conclusions that can be drawn. The researchers, from the University of Geneva and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, say there are plans for more research that will investigate whether microwaves emitted by cell phones directly impact sperm count and if heat generated by phones affects sperm production.

"Previous studies evaluating the relationship between the use of mobile phones and semen quality were performed on a relatively small number of individuals, rarely considering lifestyle information, and have been subject to selection bias, as they were recruited in fertility clinics. This has led to inconclusive results," said Rita Rahban, a senior researcher at University of Geneva's Department of Genetic Medicine who led the study. 

Fertility is measured in the number of sperm per milliliter of semen. Someone hoping to have a child should have a sperm concentration of at least 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen, and the chances of impregnation drop if one's sperm concentration is below 40 million per milliliter, according to the research.

Over the past 50 years, the average sperm count has decreased from 99 million per milliliter to 47 million per milliliter. The researchers say this is due to a variety of factors, including pesticides, radiation, diet, alcohol and stress.

Young men in the early years of the dataset, especially 2005-2007, had more affected sperm counts. This is related to phones' transmitting power as they transitioned from 2G cellular networks to 3G and 4G ones.

"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 Martin Röösli, an associate professor at Swiss TPH who was involved in the study.

Another study, funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, hopes to "precisely and directly measure exposure to electromagnetic waves, types of use — calls, web browsing, sending messages — and assess their impacts on male reproductive health and fertility potential," according to a release searching for study participants.

A separate study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2018, says exposure to PFOA and PFOS — toxic chemicals commonly found in nonstick cookware, firefighting foam and waterproofed products — is associated with reduced sperm count, shorter penises and disrupted reproductive health markers in young men. Further research says pollution and climate change can affect fertility in humans and animals.

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