Radio-frequency electromagnetic waves from cell phones in talk
mode may cause decreased sperm quality in men, according to a new study by researchers at the Glickman Urological and
Kidney Institute at Cleveland Clinic in the journal Fertility and
The study, which was conducted in the laboratory on human ejaculated
semen, found that cell phone radiation caused the generation of
significantly higher levels of free radicals in sperm cells while
decreasing the amount of antioxidants found in the seminal fluid.
Together, these conditions were shown to have a negative impact on the
motility and viability of sperm cells. These findings could have major
implications for the millions of reproductive-age men using hands-free
devices for their conversations while storing their phones in their
pockets in talk mode.
The findings showed:
- Cell phone radiation increased the amount of
reactive oxidative stress (or free radicals) and decreased the amount
of antioxidants in semen to levels that have a negative impact on the
motility and viability of sperm.
Measurements of the test group versus
the control group revealed that cell phone radiation creates a state of
oxidative stress within sperm cells that causes a significant decrease
in their ability to function optimally. There were no significant
differences in the amount of DNA damage to the cells in the test group
versus the control group; however, the researchers recommend further
studies in this area with a larger sample size.
"We wanted to identify why cell phone use and decreased sperm quality
appear to be related, so we devised a research protocol that could be
done completely in the lab, thus not harming participants while getting
more objective results," said Ashok Agarwal, Ph.D., Head of the
Andrology Laboratory and the Director of Center for Reproductive
Medicine at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, who led the
study. "We never imagined that we'd identify a causal link so clearly
in our initial study design, so we're happy that this research has
provided clean data to fuel future research and discussion in this
Dr. Agarwal's previous study, which was published in the journal
Fertility and Sterility in 2007, used self-reported data from 361
subjects and found that men who used their cell phones more than four
hours a day had significantly lower sperm quality than those who used
their cell phones for less time. The 2007 study did not, however,
identify a possible cause, so the research team set out to create a new
study that would provide more insight.
In this latest study, researchers collected semen samples from 32
subjects, including nine patients and 23 healthy donors, and divided
the samples into two parts to allow for both a test group and a control
group. Specimens from the test group were then placed 2.5 centimeters
from a 850 MHz cell phone in talk mode for 1 hour. Researchers
identified this distance as being the typical distance between the
testes and trouser pockets, a common place for men to store their cell
phones while talking on a hands-free earpiece.
Special equipment measured and monitored the radio-frequency
electromagnetic waves emitted by the phone. Then, researchers measured
the levels of reactive oxygen species (harmful free radicals), total
antioxidant capacity and DNA integrity of the sperm cells, and compared
them to the control group.
Edmund Sabanegh, M.D., Director of the Center for Male Fertility for
the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute explained the importance
of the study.
"This is a significant breakthrough because, even though we had a small
sample size, we can now develop additional studies to further test what
this pilot has revealed," said Dr. Sabanegh, who was a member of the
research team. "Since many people are now using hands-free sets with
their cell phones for various health and safety reasons, it's important
that we continue studying this topic to gain a better understanding of
the true impact these devices are having on every part of the body."
Drs. Agarwal and Sabanegh and the rest of the research team are
currently developing research protocols to further test their findings,
including studies that will replicate the impact that layers of fat and
muscle surrounding the male reproductive system have on the
transmission of radio-frequency and electromagnetic waves to the
testicles, semen and sperm. For more information on their research,