Sperm Under Attack -- Fact vs. Fiction

Terlecki Ryan
Many environmental factors are rumored to have harmful effects on reproductive potential. What are the facts? Ryan Terlecki, MD, a reconstructive urologist who specializes in male infertility, addresses some of the most common concerns.

Cell Phone Risk? Studies have associated increased cell phone use with increases in free radicals that may lead to systemic effects that could possibly be damaging to fertility. The risk to the testicles may not only be due to the proximity of the source of radiation, but also the duration of daily use.

The data on cell phones in regard to sperm detriment is growing. Cell phones emit radiation in the form of electromagnetic waves, which may have adverse effects on the Leydig and Sertoli cells (both necessary for development of sperm) within the testicle. Multiple studies in animals and humans have shown cell phone usage to be associated with abnormal sperm motility, morphology, and viability. More research is needed and the exact mechanism of these effects (i.e., thermal or non-thermal) is unknown.

Soda (e.g., Mountain Dew): There is no evidence that one particular soda impairs fertility. Caffeine consumption has been associated with decreased female fertility, but this has not been shown in men. A Danish study found that men with very high caffeine consumption had lower sperm counts, but this may have been associated with a less healthy overall lifestyle.  As a physician, however, there are many other reasons to avoid high-calorie sodas. 

BPA: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is contained in numerous consumer products and is drawing more attention. Increased levels of BPA can be found in the urine after handling coated products and a Chinese study in 2010 found increasing urine levels to be associated with decreased sperm count, concentration, vitality, and motility. More people seem to be turning to items (e.g., reusable water bottles) that are BPA-free.

Exercise: Regular physical activity has not been found to cause impairment in semen parameters. However, one study found that bicycling for 5 or more hours per week was associated with lower sperm concentration and total motile sperm count. Other studies have demonstrated similar findings in long-distance competitive cyclists. To determine the validity of these findings, a larger study of cyclists among the general population is needed.

Laptops, briefs, hot tubs, and cigarettes: It is well established that heat has the ability to adversely affect semen parameters. Laptop computers and tight-fitting underwear have both been shown to induce scrotal hyperthermia. Data linking the use of these items to impaired semen quality is either lacking or nonconvincing. Additionally, hot tub use has been shown to negatively affect sperm, but these effects seem to be reversible with cessation of exposure, more so in nonsmokers.  Tobacco use has long been established as an independent risk factor for poor semen quality.
 

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Erectile Dysfunction: A Common Condition with Multiple Treatment Options

Erectile Dysfunction: A Common Condition with Multiple Treatment Options

Learn more about the common condition of erectile dysfunction and the available treatment options from Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC.

Last Updated: 07-28-2014
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