Research: Sperm quality inversely proportional to cell phone usage

Summary:Yikes. According to a researcher at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, there appears to be a  relationship between cell phone usage in men and their sperm quality.

Yikes. According to a researcher at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, there appears to be a  relationship between cell phone usage in men and their sperm quality. Wrote eWeek's Wayne Rash of the research and the study:

According to [the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Ashok] Agarwal, men who used their cell phones for four hours a day or more showed the greatest damage to their sperm.....He said that he can only speculate on the reason for the damage, but he said it's likely to be the effects of the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the cell phones when they transmit, as they do in use....Those who use it for long periods of time had a much more profound decrease, he said.

Wayne Rash, who I have a great deal of respect for, does an excellent job reporting on the situation and drawing attention to the fact that there is so much that isn't known and so much more testing that has to be done before anything can be ruled in or out. For example, he talks about the testing that must be done with different phones using different frequencies and types of transmission and testing with women as oposed to men. Rash quotes him as saying "There are hundreds of questions that need to be addressed if these findings turn out to be true."

This has long been my point about the cell phone industry arguing that cell phone usage is safe. While it's definitely possible to show correlations (but be non-deterministic about cause and effect) between things like cell phone usage and sperm quality, it's idiotic and an insult to our intelligence to be presented with (and asked to accept) at face value any conclusions about how cell phones are safe. How can any reasonably intelligent person reach that conclusion given the body of evidence suggesting that the opposite is possible and given number of questions that remain unanswered? The bottom line is that the jury is still out and anybody who conclusively suggests otherwise is totally full of it (and undoubtedly connected to some agenda).  

This is why, in my past coverage of this issue (here's my last post.. it points to the others), I've routinely said to keep your eyes open rather than shut when it comes to cell phones. Since us men don't keep our cell phones in our crotches, this study drives that point home even more. Without any additional information to go on, at the very least, it turns the spotlight to the two SAR ratings that every cell phone on the US market gets: one for the body, and one for the head. How meaningful is that if usage (meaning, when the transmitter is in use) which normally happens around the head is having an impact on sperm? If you were to adopt a better safe than sorry approach to cell phone usage, what would you do? Here's what I do:

  • Minimize "at head" usage
  • Use speakerphone when possible
  • Use hands-free gear when not using speakerphone. Although no definitive tests are available for it either, Bluetooth involves radios that are way less powerful than the typical transmitters found in cell phones for making contact with towers that could be miles away
  • Minimize on-body contact
    • To the extent that you can avoid it, don't hang your cell phone on you belt or keep it in your pocket.
    • Bear in mind that some cell phones, particularly smart phones capable of messaging, are transmitting even when you're not on a call and that there's plenty more research to do to understand where some types of traffic (voice vs. data) could be more dangerous than others.
  • Shop based on SAR ratings
    • Sure, the stronger the radio in the phone, the fewer times it might drop a call. But, again, if you realize how precious life is and you adopt a better safe-than-sorry mentality (which I think you should), you should also realize that the higher power the radio is, the higher the SAR rating it has and phones with higher SAR ratings could potentially be more harmful than phones with lower ratings.
    • Don't make the mistake I made when I recently was paid by Verizon Wireless to take a cell phone (a deal that I found on Amazon).  It turned out to be tied with another phone for the highest SAR rating of any phone on the US market.
  • Think twice about giving your kids a cell phone
    • I've heard the argument that, if there is a risk of cancer due to cell phones, that the benefits outweight those risks. That argument is somewhat bolstered by the story of a 14-year old who, after being kidnapped, used the text messaging feature on her captor's phone to effect her rescue. But, I still remain unconvinced. There are some best practices that make more sense. For example, in a playground near my house, I  routinely see young children playing alone that I'd never leave alone. I often see young teenage girls walking by themselves in the dark. Here, in Massachusetts, it's pretty dark by the time some after school activities get out. On one hand, I want to stop and ask them if I can offer them a safer way home. On the other, I know someone will lock me up and throw away the key for asking that question. But I think about my two-year old daughter and how my wife and I will do everything in our power to make sure she doesn't feel like she has to be walking alone at night.  Either (a) she should be with a group of friends, or (b) we should have a pre-arranged pick-up time at which either my wife or I can be there in person to give her a ride. I simply couldn't live with myself if I knew that one of my children was kidnapped because of our ignorance. If that means we have to give them a phone, at the very least...
    • .....if you must give your kids a phone, find one with a low SAR rating and do what you have to to mitigate the unknown risks. 
    • After all, 25 years from now, if a bunch of our kids end up very sick, wouldn't you rather know that you were one of the ones that was better safe than sorry?

    Topics: Mobility

    About

    David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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