Male Fertility: Considering Laptops and Sperm
About two years ago now, a publication in the November issue of Fertility and Sterility demonstrated a negative effect of Wi-Fi radio frequency exposure on sperm samples. In other words, the study appeared to show that the computer usage could be contributing to fertility challenges. For this reason, the study was picked up broadly by mainstream media. Perhaps more important than the actual study itself is the attention it brought to male infertility. Many couples do not realize that 30-40% of fertility problems in couples are due to male sub-fertility or infertility.
Can Computer Usage Damage Sperm?
Let's look at this question: does computer usage damage sperm? First, let’s breakdown the study and its findings. Twenty-nine men provided semen samples that were washed and examined for motility and DNA fragmentation. The samples were subsequently placed underneath a laptop receiving a Wi-Fi signal for four hours. There was also a control group of samples that were not exposed to a Wi-Fi signal. Both sperm samples were evaluated; the investigators noted a significant decrease in motility of the sperm and DNA fragmentation in sperm samples. The investigators concluded that: keeping a laptop connected wirelessly to the Internet in the lap or near the testes may result in decreased male fertility. (Avendaño, Conrado, et al; (2011) Use of laptop computers connected to internet through Wi-Fi decreases human sperm motility and increases sperm DNA fragmentation, Fertility and Sterility.)
Here is the weak point of the study: it was conducted in the laboratory only and not on real men. The participants were not tested with laptops on their laps; semen samples were tested 3 cm below a laptop actively receiving Wi-Fi signals. In this artificial environment the laptop computer was continually downloading or uploading information to maximize Wi-Fi exposure. In addition, in real life when a man is using a laptop the sperm are within the body and within the testes; it is difficult to quantify how much radiation exposure the sperm would actually receive.
Regardless, it is plausible that direct exposure to electromagnetic radiation could affect sperm motility and quality. This study should lead to more clinical research about the affect of computer usage on sperm quality and therefore male fertility.
Male Factor Infertility: What to Consider
The most important outcome of this study is the attention it draws to male factor infertility. Beyond computer usage, there are many factors affecting male fertility. These include:
- Prescription drugs
- Environmental toxins
- Vitamin deficiencies
When I meet with patients, we discuss the male partner’s lifestyle choices. A recent large epidemiologic study showed that when men have more than six drinks per week, pregnancy rates in their wives are lower. In addition, a recent large study showed a dramatic decrease in successful pregnancies and increase in miscarriages when a male partner has a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 35. And there are many studies that demonstrate the negative affect of smoking on sperm count - whether the substance is tobacco or marijuana. Certain job situations also put a man's sperm count at risk; for example, exposure to chemical fumes from petroleum products and heavy metals have been shown to negatively affect sperm counts.
How to Optimize Preconception Health
At Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMA of CT) we encourage our patients – both men and women – to optimize their health and their lifestyle choices during the 90 days preconception. This includes:
- drink minimally
- quit smoking
- avoid exposure to environmental risk factors
- try to get to an ideal weight
While the fertility field has made incredible strides to scientifically enhance a couple’s chance of getting pregnant, I believe that a couple’s first step should be to live a healthy lifestyle.
As a closing note: If you spend more than a few hours with your laptop on your lap or your cell phone in your front pocket while connected to WiFi and you are trying to get pregnant you may want to make some simple changes in how you use and where you put your phone.
Just in case…
RMA of CT
Photo: Laptop by Rob Pearce, Flickr Creative Commons
I’m just going to cut to the chase. If you’re having trouble conceiving and you’re a man, often there is little that you can do. Even if it’s male factor infertility (problems in the male reproductive system), often it is still the woman that will need to be stimulated. To get the shots, go for bloodwork, have ultrasounds done, embryo retrieval (if treatment includes IVF- in vitro fertilization) and embryo transfer. Certainly there are men out there who are enduring surgeries and procedures, I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. However there is only so much that needs to go on with the male in the equation; we need to get the sperm, essentially. Even if it’s just one sperm. After that, what goes on is in the woman’s court.
And what do we give up, we women? Caffeine (not always), intense exercise, alcohol, recreational drugs, certain types of fish. And so on. Many of us give up nitrates (hot dogs, other cured meats), sushi, baby showers (too painful), vacations, etc. The list is as long as my arm and just as personal as the woman involved.
Read the article below about male factor infertility. Is it the best research out there? Not sure about that from what I was able to read. Not sure how the well documented the research is or how many men were studied. The research is from a well known infertility program in Argentina and I’m sure with further digging, more information could be found. I will look more.
Meanwhile, here is what’s being reported. I jumped to the conclusions as that was my biggest concern. It’s Monday after all, and I’m into the bottom line this morning!
A vital bit of information on why having your lap top on your lap is not the greatest idea for our men.
The direction of this research was provided by Conrado Avendaño, a biochemist specializing in Andrology. He was accompanied by a team of Ariela Mata, a specialist in Reproductive Biology and Chief of the Laboratory of Embryology, Cesar Sanchez Sarmiento, medical director, Andrew Juarez Villanueva, head of Gynecologic Endoscopy and Valeria Martinez, laboratory specializing in Andrology and Embryology.
Results. There are three factors that were examined to study the sperm quality: if the sperm were alive, if they moved and if the sperm DNA was intact. “The study showed that exposure to these devices did not cause the death of sperm,” said Avendano.
Meanwhile, the analysis of mobility, it was found that in the group exposed to WiFi radiation, there was less sperm that are moving faster and an increase in the amount of stationary sperm.
“This is a sobering if you take into account that the sperm are moving progressively to finally be able to reach the egg and fertilize it, and then form an embryo,” said César Sánchez Sarmiento.
Finally in terms of sperm DNA integrity, was found through a study known as “Tunnel”, which both groups of spermatozoa had a significant difference. “In the fraction exposed to radiation had a significant increase in sperm with fragmented DNA (broken),” said Avendano. Sánchez Sarmiento argues that the importance of this aspect is that reproductive medicine has proven that “one of the causes of changes in fertilization and embryonic development is therefore the break in the DNA molecules of the sperm.”
Ok, I looked further. Here's some information from the University of Stonybrook, echoing what is posted above:
Men and teenage boys should think twice before placing a laptop computer on their laps as they can lower sperm counts and reduce your chances of fathering a child. If you are male, thinking about having a family, or even a decade away from planning a family, you may be better off placing your laptop on a desk.
A concrete, solid suggestion is offered. Gentlemen, get your laptops off your laps and onto a desk.
In the news over the weekend, on MSN, the article title read "10 proven sperm killers". Catchy title? Not so sure , but the information in the article is well researched and easy enough to read. Good to see it on the weekend news, in any case, as male infertility
problems cause up to 40% of the reason that conception does not occur. (All text in italics is taken directly from the article.)
It turns out that hot tubs and overheating the testes is not a myth and can affect sperm production for months. If the temperature of the testicles is raised to 98˚, sperm production ceases, according to Hal Danzer, M.D., a Los Angeles fertility specialist. When production is interrupted, sperm can be negatively impacted for months.
The article goes on to talk about wet heat (as opposed to other types of heat) from a hot tub, specifically, will temporarily decrease sperm production. Dr. Shin counters that wet heat exposure can impact a man's sperm for a surprisingly long time. Because sperm takes so long to mature, "any interventions [to reduce exposure] will usually take at least three, if not six to nine, months to show any benefit," he says.
Evidently there is even more reason to avoid the flu as a high fever creates the same problems as a hot tub. The three questions that Dr. Wharton asks a patient; hot tubs, smoking marijuana and wearing bicycle pants. If no is the answer to those three questions, then Dr. Wharton (a San Francisco based OB/Gyn) wants to know about illnesses three months earlier. A high fever can have the same effect as wet heat on a man's sperm-with the same lasting effects. And depending on the timing in the sperm production process, sperm concentration can decrease by up to 35 percent following a fever, according to a 2003 study.
And, according to this article, it's official and real. Get the laptop off your lap. Put it on the desk, move it away from you. There can be a temperature rise of up to 35% in some positions, say researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. This increase has a well-documented harmful effect on spermatogenesis (the process of male gamete formation), so if you're trying to conceive, leave the laptop on the desk.
The article on MSN moves away from heat and goes on to address the issue of enlarged varicose veins in a man's scrotum, called varicoceles. There are two ways to repair a varicocele, either surgically or non-surgically with a technique called a percutaneous embolization. Even with a varicocele, it may come back to overheating. Doctors and researchers are not sure why a varicocele causes sperm production, nor are they sure that fertility improves after fixing the problem. Though there is little proof that fertility improves after varicocele embolization, some doctors believe the surgery may improve semen quality.
It seems to me that the jury is still clearly out on cell phone usage and sperm production. There is a small study done in 2008 that shows four plus hours a day caused "significantly lower sperm counts, motility rates, and morphology (normal shapes)," Because this study and others have been so small, many doctors feel that they are not significant at this time.
The article goes on to talk about obesity. "Obesity has been associated with increased production of female hormones (estrogen), decreased sperm counts, sexual dysfunction, and infertility," says Daniel A. Potter, M.D., of the Huntington Reproductive Center in California.
Dr. Potter goes on to discuss so-called recreational drugs, such as marijuana, liquor and tobacco. "Tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana can impair sexual function," says Dr. Potter, who recommends that his patients limit or avoid all of these when trying to conceive.
Finally, there are physiological problems that can affect sperm and sperm production. Dr. Potter lists blockages, genetic disorders, anti-sperm antibodies, hormonal imbalance, testicular cancer, undescended testicles and even sexual problems.
This article gives men well identified and researched ways to enhance their sperm production, to enhance their overall reproductive health and to understand that what one does can affect their fertility for up to three months and even longer. All done without injections, medications or surgery. Overall, a great message, something most of us can live with.