Most men place their cell phones in their trouser pockets without thinking twice about it — that's what pockets are for, isn't it? By doing so, they could be damaging their sperm and reducing their fertility, a new meta-analysis reveals.
The systematic review of 10 studies — led by Dr Fiona Mathews from the University of Exeter — analyzed both men's exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) from cell phones and their sperm. Almost 1,500 sperm samples were investigated altogether, both from men attending fertility clinics and research centers that measured the fertility of men exposed to RF-EMR.
The study team looked at the men's sperm motility (movement), viability (the amount of live sperm) and concentration (the number of live sperm per unit of semen). They included only studies that were written in English and used human test subjects, and left out studies that specifically looked into the effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation in the workplace.
The result was clear: all but one of the reviewed studies showed a clear link between cell phone exposure and a reduced sperm quality.
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Men in the control groups were found to have a sperm motility of between 50 and 85 percent, while that figure dropped by an average of eight percent of those men that had been exposed to radiation from cell phones. The amount of live sperm found in samples was reduced by a similar percentage, while it was not entirely clear if cell phone exposure also led to a lower sperm concentration.
"The studies are coming out with a consistent message that sperm motility declines with exposure to mobile telephones and similarly proportion which are alive, it's about an eight percentage point fall," Dr Mathews said. She added: "I think for your average man there's certainly no need to panic, if you already know you have a potential fertility issue then it might be an additional thing to consider — just as you might change your diet — you might want to change where you keep your phone."
Are the studies that Dr Mathews and her team analyzed reliable, though? Not everyone think so. You'll have noticed that the research team talked about "exposure to radiation from cell phones" rather than about "men who carried cell phones in their pockets". That's because some of this research was conducted in a lab setting, and semen samples in petri dishes were exposed to RF-EMR. This is something that may produce results that differ significantly from the consequences of simply going about your day with a cell phone in your pocket.
Dr Mathews acknowledges this limitations, saying that further research is certainly necessary. However, she says, "given the enormous scale of mobile phone use around the world, the potential role of this environmental exposure needs to be clarified."
This meta-analysis sums up the results of currently available research, and it is not meant to be conclusive in any way. It will probably open the door to further research into a subject that could potentially have a large, worldwide effect on fertility. Should men who would prefer to preserve their fertility avoid carrying the cell phones around in their trouser pockets, then? As Dr Mathews says, you probably have no reason to panic unless you are already aware of sub-fertility. You may just decide to err on the side of caution. Carrying your phone elsewhere shouldn't be too much of a hassle though, and it may increase a man's chances of conceiving a baby.