WiFi may kill sperm - study

Bonnie Tubbs
By Bonnie Tubbs, ITWeb telecoms editor.
Johannesburg, 09 Dec 2011

Cigarettes, alcohol, excessive exercise, intense stress and WiFi. These things may have more in common than one would think.

A recent study revealed that WiFi could significantly reduce the quality of a male's sperm. According to Reuters, a group of Argentinean scientists conducted a trial with 29 healthy men, a few drops of semen and a laptop connected to the Internet via WiFi.

For four hours, two separate samples of sperm were kept at the same temperature, one under a WiFi connected laptop in download mode, and the other away from the device.

The results, published in reputable medical journal 'Fertility and Sterility', showed a significantly reduced quality in the sperm that was in close contact with the connected laptop.

“A quarter of the sperm were no longer swimming around, for instance, compared to just 14% from semen samples stored at the same temperature away from the computer. Nine percent of the sperm showed DNA damage, three-fold more than the comparison samples.”

The report, headed: “Use of laptop computers connected to Internet through WiFi decreases human sperm motility and increases sperm DNA fragmentation”, follows extensive exploration on the effect of the heat generated by laptops on men's fertility.

The culprit, according to preliminary findings, is in fact more likely to be electromagnetic radiation generated during wireless communication.

Argentinean doctor Conrado Avenda~no, of Nascentis Medicina Reproductiva, in Cordoba, and colleagues write in their report: “Our data suggest that the use of a laptop computer wirelessly connected to the Internet and positioned near the male reproductive organs may decrease human sperm quality.”

While the study's results point to WiFi being the offending component, the report points out that it is not presently clear whether this effect is induced by all laptop computers connected by WiFi to the Internet, or what use conditions heighten the effect.

Reuters says a separate test with a laptop that was on, but not wirelessly connected, found negligible electromagnetic radiation from the machine alone.

The report's conclusion reads: “To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the direct impact of laptop use on human spermatozoa. Ex vivo exposure of human spermatozoa to a wireless Internet-connected laptop decreased motility and induced DNA fragmentation by a non-thermal effect.

“We speculate that keeping a laptop connected wirelessly to the Internet on the lap near the testes may result in decreased male fertility. Further in vitro and in vivo studies are needed to prove this contention.”

Clinical context

Reproductive medicine specialist and director of Bryanston's Medfem Fertility Clinic, Dr Antonio Rodrigues, says the study is not scientific. “You need to test the sperm in the testes, not under the computer.”

He says men with male factor infertility have a higher incidence of being stressed individuals, often employing poor dietary habits. “Lifestyle management is important.”

Rodrigues adds there is “no harm done” by men limiting exposure to any potential environmental factors if they have a sperm problem.

Dr George Ellis, of Orlando Health, posted a rejoinder on Facebook in which he challenges the validity of the results in light of the trial's context.

Ellis cites a number of contributing factors to degenerate fertility in males, including heat, obesity, bicycling and undue exposure to environmental assaults.

He concludes: “Heat, radiation and other factors may contribute to low sperm counts. These may also be factors when using a laptop. It is being noted that the recent studies are not from people, but from application of a laptop to sperm directly.”