PROFESSOR ROB GALLOWAY: Don’t ditch your mobile just yet, but here are the three things we know DO harm male fertility

As I write this, I have the printout of a 12-week scan in front of me, showing the wonderful news that my wife and I are having a baby in May.

As a relatively older father at age 46, I was concerned about my chances of becoming pregnant. Stories about men (usually rock stars) old enough to become great-grandfathers and become fathers have helped fuel the popular belief that age has no effect on male fertility.

In fact, that idea was undermined in 2007 by a study published in the journal Andrologia, involving more than 6,000 men, which found that sperm count declines as you age; For example, 55-year-olds had less than half the number of 30 to 35-year-olds.

The bad news is that it’s not just about getting older. Data now shows that regardless of age, total sperm count and the health of those sperm decline.

A major review published in the journal Human Reproduction Update analyzed 223 studies between 1973 and 2018 and found that sperm count fell by 68 percent and sperm concentration by 51.6 percent, with the steepest decline occurring after 2000, when there was a decline . of 2.6 percent in sperm concentration per year.

Stories about men who were old enough to be great-grandfathers and became fathers have helped fuel the popular belief that age has no effect on male fertility

Of course, it’s not just the numbers that matter, but also the sperm’s motility (how well they swim) and their morphology (their shape and whether they are structurally sound).

But this decrease in sperm count is concerning; up to one in six couples struggle to conceive, with male infertility a factor in half of cases.

What is happening? Should we blame cell phones? That was the suggestion of a widely publicized new study in the journal Andrology. The story was widely discussed, with worrying headlines. And you know what, the study data actually looked pretty scary: A team in Switzerland found that if you used your phone more than 20 times a day, you had a 21 percent reduction in sperm count compared to those who used the phone less. than 20 times a day. ten times a day; and for every increase in daily use (starting at zero) sperm count decreased by 1 percent.

That’s alarming, especially for those of us who have our phones on every day. But before you throw away your cell phone, let me explain what this study didn’t show.

First, although sperm counts were lower, they were still well above fertility-threatening levels.

More importantly, this study looked at semen samples from men aged 18 to 22 at an assessment center to assess their physical fitness for military service.

Ask the AI ​​Doctor: How accurate is the health advice from the artificial intelligence bot ChatPT?

This week’s question: I’m coughing up blood, what should I do?

ChatGPT says: Coughing up blood, also called hemoptysis, can be a serious symptom that requires immediate medical attention. If you cough up a significant amount of blood or have trouble breathing, call emergency services or go to the hospital immediately.

Stay calm. Spit the blood into a container or tissue to show the doctor. This can help them determine the source and severity of the bleeding. Do not use cough suppressants or other medications without consulting a doctor. These medications can make it difficult to cough up the blood and worsen the situation.

1699936203 340 PROFESSOR ROB GALLOWAY Dont ditch your mobile just yet but

EXPERT COMMENTS: ‘THIS doesn’t tell you what a significant amount of blood is,’ says Anindo Banerjee, respiratory consultant at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. ‘Making a diagnosis is important, but it’s no reason to rush to the emergency department, which will otherwise be flooded with people with simple viral bronchitis (a surprisingly common cause of hemoptysis).

β€œIf there is half a cup or more, go to the hospital immediately. Less than that justifies an urgent appointment with the GP. Spitting the blood into a tissue to show it to a doctor is bad advice, as tuberculosis is one of the most common causes of hemoptysis worldwide and carrying tissues with infectious bacteria is a very bad idea. Take a photo instead.”

They completed questionnaires about their health status, alcohol consumption, weight, smoking and mobile use and where they usually kept their phone. Surprisingly, sperm counts didn’t matter where the phone was kept: they dropped regardless of whether men kept their phones in their pants or in a bag. But if the phone damaged sperm, surely those who kept their phones in their pants would be more affected than those who kept them in their bags?

That’s a good reason to take this study with a grain of salt.

Mobile phone use also had no impact on key aspects of sperm health. There is even evidence that it has improved it; those who used their phones more than twenty times a day, compared to less than five times, had better sperm motility and normal morphology. This may be a coincidence, but it is still a question mark in the research.

So what have we learned from it? That there is a link between higher cell phone use and lower sperm counts. But correlation does not mean causation.

A good example of this is coffee. For years it had a bad name because research showed that coffee drinkers had a greater risk of lung cancer. But we now know that this was because coffee drinkers in the past were often smokers and it was smoking that caused the cancer, not coffee (which actually has many health benefits).

The study suggested some other possible causes: the young men who used their cell phones smoked and drank more, and had higher rates of obesity. But hey, even the “virtuous” participants still had lower sperm counts.

I suspect what was really going on was that this study involved young men – 18 to 22 years old – and they were probably masturbating more.

Data published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics and Gynecology has shown that the more often this behavior occurs, the lower the volume and concentration of semen. In other words, it leads to a drop in sperm count (but again, not near a level that would affect fertility).

My biggest concern about the new study, and the reason I have no hesitation in getting rid of my own cell phone, is because of the time frame of the study, which ran between 2005 and 2018. During this time, in addition to the use of we make phone calls more, we’ve become unhealthier as a population: we exercise less and eat more processed food (and younger people use more illicit drugs like cannabis, which is known to reduce sperm count).

Perhaps these are the reasons for the declining sperm count, and the fact that the men who used their cell phones fared worse was just a coincidence.

The bottom line is that this new research does not prove that increased cell phone use has led to a decrease in sperm count.

Separately, we do know that oxidative stress damages sperm DNA and reduces sperm count, as does lower levels of testosterone. Anything that affects either of these two factors on a population basis would contribute to declining sperm counts.

The culprits include the increasing use of plastic, rising rates of obesity, smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet.

So what can you do if you’re concerned about your sperm count?

This was something that struck me a few years ago: my new partner and I wanted to have children and the first hurdle we had to overcome was my own self-induced complication, the need to undergo a vasectomy reversal.

But after the successful operation, we were still not pregnant after a few months of trying. At this point I started researching what could improve our chances.

The decrease in sperm count is worrying;  Up to one in six couples struggle to conceive, with male infertility a factor in half of cases (Stock Image)

The decrease in sperm count is worrying; Up to one in six couples struggle to conceive, with male infertility a factor in half of cases (Stock Image)

I have identified three factors that are not only linked to male fertility, but also proven to promote male fertility, using rigorous, randomized, controlled trials.

And no, ditching my phone wasn’t one of them.

The first was losing weight. In a study published in Human Reproduction in 2022, when overweight men – many of them up to 15 kg above a healthy BMI – followed a low-calorie diet (800 calories per day) for eight weeks, their sperm count increased by 50 percent. .

These improvements lasted for a year in men who maintained weight loss, but not in men who regained the weight.

Exercise is also important. When men who went to a fertility clinic with their partners got an intense exercise regimen, their sperm count increased by 21 percent compared to those who didn’t do the exercise, according to a study published in 2015 in the journal Reproduction (the men did a combination of cardiovascular and strength training). But beware: the exercise should not include cycling, because the pressure of the saddle on the testicles directly damages the sperm.

And finally, diet: this means eating foods that have been shown to reduce oxidative stress. In 2018, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating 60 grams of mixed nuts once a day for 14 weeks increased sperm count and motility in men and reduced signs of DNA damage.

Other research has shown that taking fish oil can improve sperm motility in infertile men.

I tried all three tactics (at the time I was 10kg overweight) – and within three months we were pregnant and now have a wonderful son and another baby on the way. (Along with my three kids before the vasectomy!)

The bottom line is that cell phones may or may not damage sperm. I haven’t stopped using mine yet, but if you want to protect your fertility, do what we know works: follow the science.