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Radio waves from cellphones damage sperm, study says

September 19, 2008 | 11:50 am

Cellphone1Attention male cellphone users of reproductive age: Take that phone out of your pocket. Information published today suggests that the radio-frequency energy released by cellphones decreases sperm quality in men.

Last year, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic released a study showing that men who used their cellphones for more than four hours a day had significantly lower sperm quality than men who used their phones for less time. That study, however, did not reveal what might be causing this association. The new study by the same research group, published online today in Fertility & Sterility, took sperm samples from 32 men and divided the samples into two parts for a test group and a control group. The test group specimens were placed an inch from a 850 MHz cellphone that was in talk mode. Measurements taken after the one-hour exposure showed that the sperm exposed to the cellphone contained higher levels of harmful free radicals and a decreased amount of protective antioxidants compared with the unexposed sperm. These factors caused a decline in the sperm's function and motility and in the overall health of the sperm. However, there was no significant difference in damage to the DNA of the exposed cells.

For now, the amount of radio-frequency energy released from cellphones is considered safe. But there are looming questions about the long-term and heavy use of cellphones. Links between brain cancer and cellphones have been suggested, for example. And a recent study found a link between women who used a cellphone in pregnancy and later behavior problems in their children. See this recent L.A. Times Health section story on cellphones and the risk of disease.

Further studies are needed to determine if the results seen in the laboratory sperm samples hold true in men. Many men put their phones in a trouser pocket when using a hands-free device. In the lab, the sperm and cellphone were placed side-by-side. But in real life, the phone and the male reproductive organs are separated by several layers of tissue. Still, men who are planning a family may want to play it safe and keep the active phone a safe distance from their reproductive parts.

"Since many people are now using hands-free sets with their cellphones 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," said Dr. Edmund Sabanegh, director of the Center for Male Fertility for the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: More people than ever are using hands-free phone devices or headsets and placing their phones on a belt or in a pocket. Credit: Annie Wells /Los Angeles Times

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