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 area."
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, visit http://www.clevelandclinic.org/ReproductiveResearchCenter/.