Heavy use of a cell phone may damage semen quality, according to a large Cleveland Clinic study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine meeting in New Orleans.

During the year ending October 2005, doctors tested 361 infertile men, median age 32 years. Participants were divided into four groups according to cell-phone usage, ranging from zero to at least four hours per day. The investigators found that sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology decreased with increased use of the phones. Patients who used a cell phone for more than four hours a day had the greatest decrease in sperm count, total motility, percentage normal morphology, and viability. The researchers say the findings were statistically significant.

“We think there may be several things going on,” says lead investigator Ashok Agarwal, PhD, director of research of The Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s Reproductive Research Center. “It may not just be the electromagnetic waves affecting spermatogenesis. There may also be an increase in temperature because of the absorption of the waves by the tissues around the testes.” Dr. Agarwal cautions that the findings are preliminary, so it is too soon to tell concerned men not to use cell phones. Also, the study did not account for electromagnetic waves from radio towers, laptop computers, and other electronic devices.

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This is not the first study, however, to show potential harmful effects from cell phones. One found that electromagnetic waves alter and disturb sleep, and another showed cell phones increased BP. Other investigators have also linked electromagnetic waves to DNA-strand breaks, headaches, fatigue, difficulty in concentration, and reduction in melatonin. Dr. Agarwal said a decrease in melatonin can predispose sperm to oxidative stress.