Attention men: Are you taking a supplement to support your “manliness” yet?
By now you’re probably aware that sperm counts in Western countries have been declining since the 1940s. In fact, according to a review of 185 studies, total sperm count declined by 50% to 60% in just the 38 years between 1973 and 2011.
Now, as if these factors don’t present enough of a challenge for men, a brand new study shows cell phone use is adding to the sperm-destroying carnage.
A team from the University of Geneva, in collaboration with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, published a major cross-sectional study that found frequent use of mobile phones is associated with a “lower sperm concentration and total sperm count.”
The research, published October 2023 in the journal Fertility and Sterility, points to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones as the cause of the reduction.
There was a bit of good news in the study: while sperm count and concentration were reduced, researchers did not find any association between mobile phone use and low sperm motility and morphology. These findings, however, contradict a 2021 study published in Environmental Research that found cell phone radiation did affect motility and morphology.
How sperm quality is measured
Sperm concentration, total sperm count, sperm motility and sperm morphology are all the different factors that make up for the umbrella term “semen quality.”
According to the values established by the World Health Organization, the likelihood of conceiving a child starts decreasing drastically if the sperm concentration is below 40 million per milliliter.
At a concentration below 15 million per milliliter, the likelihood of conceiving is so low it is estimated to take more than one year to conceive a child—and for some men at this level it may never happen.
With these numbers in mind, the tracking of sperm count declines present some worrisome statistics. Studies show average sperm counts dropping from 99 million sperm per milliliter to 47 million per milliliter during the past 50 years.
Since researchers in Switzerland had conducted their first national study on the semen quality of young men in 2019, the 2023 study was actually a follow-up. The research team, from the University of Geneva, based their new study on data from 2,886 Swiss men. All were young men aged 18 to 22 who were recruited between 2005 and 2018 from six military conscription centers.
Study participants completed a detailed questionnaire related to their lifestyle habits, their general health status, and the frequency at which they used their phones as well as where they placed it when not in use.
After analyzing the data, the researchers reported an association between frequent use and lower sperm concentration.
The median sperm concentration was significantly higher in the group of men who did not use their phone more than once a week—an average of 56.5 million sperm per milliliter.
Meanwhile, men who used their phone more than 20 times a day were found to have an average level measured at 21% less—44.5 million sperm per milliliter.
A major limitation to the study was that the data collected relied on self-reported data. Scientists hope this limitation will be overcome by a new study that is currently underway. The new study is funded by the Federal Office for the Environment with an aim to directly measure exposure to electromagnetic waves from all sources.
The data will be collected using a phone app, and is anticipated to provide not only a greater amount of data, but also data that is more widely accepted in peer review.
A PDF that includes all the data collected by the Swiss researchers in the 2023 study can be downloaded here.
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