Male Fertility: Considering Laptops and Sperm
About two-plus 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