A study published in Fertility & Sterility looks at the association between mobile phone usage and sperm quality.
Professor Alison Campbell, Chief Scientific Officer, Care Fertility, said:
“This is a relatively large study of over 2500 men conducted over 13 years to examine the possible association of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) with semen parameters. The research reported decreasing sperm numbers with increasing mobile phone usage.
“We know that many lifestyle factors can affect male fertility, but we have almost certainly not identified all of them. This research considered and adjusted for some of them and also involved the men completing detailed questionnaires about their health and lifestyle. However, there could be other causes of the decline in sperm numbers that was observed.
“The authors highlight that more studies are required to confirm whether mobile phones were the cause of the reduction in sperm numbers that was seen. There is currently no confirmed explanation of the biology or mechanisms behind this finding, as the research has not yet been done.
“Interestingly, sperm morphology (shape) and motility were not seen to decline, with increased use of mobile phones, like sperm numbers did. Whilst sperm numbers matter, the ability of sperm to swim, have healthy intact DNA and be the right shape, is at least as important.
“This is a fascinating and novel study which should not cause alarm or drastic changes in habits. 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.”
Professor Allan Pacey of Andrology at the University of Manchester, said:
“I have been asked many times over the past decade whether there is any link between mobile phones and male fertility. However, I have been largely unconvinced by the data which has been published to date. This is for a variety of reasons as outlined in a previous comment I gave to the Science Media Centre back in 2022 (https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-conference-abstract-looking-at-the-effect-of-cell-phone-emr-on-sperm-motility-and-viability/) which you may like to look at. That quote summarises my position at the time and very little has changed it in the interim.
“However, today’s study is a little step forward in the debate because this is a large epidemiological study which appears to have been very well conducted. The study is not perfect, and the authors of it acknowledge that (one of the main criticisms being that mobile phone use was self-reported), but it is a study in the real world – and that is good in my opinion. However, we should be cautious about its interpretation as it only shows an association between mobile phone use and semen quality. We cannot be sure that the mobile phone is not a surrogate marker for another aspect of the men’s lifestyle or occupation that is the real cause of any changes to their sperm quality. I am intrigued by the observation that the biggest effect was apparently seen with older 2G and 3G phones compared to modern 4G and 5G versions. This is not something I am able to explain and you’d have to speak to an expert in electromagnetic radiation to better understand that.
“Finally, whilst this paper gives the researchers a clear sense of direction for their future studies (which they mention in the paper), I am not sure it really changes the advice I would give to men who are concerned about their fertility. If men are concerned, then keeping their phones in a bag and limiting their use is a relatively easy thing for them to do. But there is currently no evidence that will improve their sperm quality (that would need a randomised controlled trial). As for me, I will be continuing to keep my phone in my trouser pocket.”
Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) Fellow, said:
“This is a well-designed study from a highly respected organisation that has an intent to correlate mobile phone use with sperm quality in a relevant young population. The ethics approval is important in that care is given to ensure the population is appropriately chosen. The findings certainly stimulate the need for further research. However, there is a vital need on the part of the ‘lay’ reader to avoid over-interpreting the findings and drawing conclusions that are difficult to justify. The use of a questionnaire to determine phone use is likely to be associated with large error bars but it is challenging to see how else this data could be obtained; self-reporting is notoriously prone to uncertainties. 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. This paper is a good driver to more research in this very difficult area.”
‘Association between self-reported mobile phone use and the semen quality of young men’ by Rita Rahban et al. was published in Fertility & Sterility at 05:45 UK time on Wednesday 1 November 2023.
Prof Pacey: In the last 2 years I have been in receipt of income from grants, commercial contracts and donations from Cryos International, CytoSwim Ltd, Exceed Health, Mealis Group and Merck Serono. But all monies were donated to the University of Sheffield (my former employer) to support research and training.
Prof Campbell: Minor shareholder of Care Fertility, a network of fertility clinics in the UK.
Prof Sperrin: No COIs.