EMF – electromagnetic fields – are widely present throughout nature and exist in every electronic device. They are the fields created by different types of electromagnetic radiation.
EMFs encompass a wide range of different types of radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum ranging from ultra-long radiowaves to incredibly short gamma rays. Levels of EMFs are created by electronic devices and this means we’re exposed to them every single day of our lives, sometimes for many hours at a time.
Think about the countless hours we spend on our phones or in front of other types of screens. A recent survey suggested many of us could spend a staggering 50 days a year on our smartphones! That isn’t the only survey indicating how extreme our mobile phone usage has become – this survey similarly found we spent some 35 days a year on our smartphones. But wait! It gets even more extreme when you factor every screen or electronic device together including phones, TVs, tablets, laptops and PCs – 10 hours 39 minutes usage a day for the average American!
But what does the increased exposure to electronic devices mean?
Scientific research has uncovered a myriad of negative health effects caused by electronic device exposure. The EMF radiation emitted by electronic devices plays a big role in some of these health effects.
Should you be worried, and how great is the risk?
The science is clear – electromagnetic radiation from mobile devices can cause or contribute to a wide range of health problems and complaints. The effects of EMF range from minor complaints like headaches and visual sensitivities to infertility and even cancer. it’s worth noting that our knowledge of EMFs is developing all the time and there’s still a lot left to discover.
Also, the complex effects of EMF on our cells are exceptionally hard to measure – it’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve really had any idea that EMF can pose dangers at all.
EMF radiation is divided into two broad types. The first type of EMFs are non-ionizing and have longer wavelengths, these are most often associated with electronic devices. Longer wavelength non-ionizing radiation such as radiowaves and microwaves are generally less potent and less penetrative, meaning they have a much lower capacity for harming us. The vast majority of radiation created by electronic devices is classified as non-ionizing.
On the other hand, ionizing radiation is much more potent, penetrative and destructive. It includes X-rays and gamma rays that are known to cause cancer and other health issues, even in very small doses. Ionizing radiation should never be produced by consumer electronics.
EMF: How Research Has Shifted
Until fairly recently, non-ionizing radiation had been thought of as more-or-less totally harmless. It is true that it’s much less harmful than ionizing radiation, but it is not absolutely safe and the effects of EMF are beginning to become clear.
The world has become increasingly digital and electronic. In addition to the vast quantities of new technology we interact with every day, this technology also usually stays on constantly. Even in the early 2000s, it’d be rare to leave so many devices on standby mode – you would likely just switch them off when not in use. Electronic devices today are also many times more powerful than they were and so they feature bigger batteries and burn through them more quickly.
In summary, electronic devices today are:
A) More prevalent
B) Always on
C) More powerful
This has changed the way we look at electronic devices and the risks they pose to us.
In the 1990s, research into the effects of EMF focussed primarily on overhead power lines and industrial environments where people were exposed to high-powered electronic devices for hours at a time. The WHO has discussed some of these studies where EMF exposure was found to be positively linked to the development of some cancers. Today, in light of how electronic devices have changed with our habits, the research agenda has shifted towards a public health debate.
Given mass exposure, scientists and public health officials have been working hard to establish whether electronics, especially mobile phones, are dangerous. Recently, this research agenda has been advancing rapidly and in 2019, over 250 scientists across fields such as biology, oncology, public health and engineering signed a joint petition urging governments worldwide to look increasingly into EMF radiation’s potentially dangerous effects.
Why does Non-Ionizing Radiation Harm Us?
Non-ionizing radiation forms in electrical circuits or is transmitted or received by antennae. To work, cellphones must communicate with other devices via their antennae which sends and receives signals in the microwave and radio frequency (RF) range. Yep, your phone communicates to other themes using a similar type of radiation that a microwave oven uses! Of course, the microwaves transmitted by phones are different from that used by a microwave oven but still, you can see how radiation can become destructive by heating.
The antennae on modern phones are very powerful and this can heat them up a lot.
Heat isn’t the only way EMFs can harm us, though.
EMFs and the Body
Our body is extremely complex and functions using a series of very sensitive electrochemical processes. Our brains transmit millions of tiny messages and instructions per second using electrical impulses. Our nervous system senses our environments and transmits information along our nerve endings using tiny electrical signals. When we disrupt our body’s natural flow, we can upset these delicate equilibriums and DNA and cell structures can become damaged quite quickly.
EMFs such as those produced by phones and other electronic devices are extremely small in most cases, but so are our cells. EMFs interact with some of these electrical signals, preventing them from functioning as they should. Temporary disruption likely poses no real issues but repeated exposure definitely increases the risks.EMFs and radiation can also directly cause cell damage by essentially shaking the cells apart, or by oxidising water releasing free radicals which can then damage DNA.
The Effects of EMF: Radiation and Sperm Function
Mobile radiation may be damaging in several ways. First, by harming the sperms’ ability to swim. Secondly, by reducing sperms’ vigour, and thirdly by causing chemical changes that make sperm less able to survive. Again, the higher the exposure, the greater the negative impact the radiation has.
A large number of properly conducted, recent scientific studies have established beyond doubt that sperm exposed to radiation from mobile phones are less mobile, less viable, and are prone to genetic damage and mutation. Exposure to mobile radiation also may cause hormonal changes that harm reproduction.
As well as sperm, mobile phone radiation, WiFi radiation, and low-frequency radiation, can all damage cells and DNA. This is leading to an increase in cancers and tumours thought to be related to mobile phones and wireless technologies. In the same way that this radiation passes through the body to damage sperm it can damage other cells and DNA.
The issue is intensified by the fact we keep electronic devices in our trouser pockets, maybe for the entire day. It isn’t just the radiation itself that causes damage to sperm but also the heat emitted by phones and laptops also. Essentially then, our phones and other electronic devices are emitting both heat and radiation that can cause cell damage whilst increasing testicular temperature, a key cause of infertility.
The Effects of EMF: Female Infertility
The effects of EMFs on fertility is not exclusive to men. Studies of both female reproductive hormones and embryos when subjected to EMF show damage that could mean reductions in reproductive health. Infertility is a possible result of increased EMF exposure but there are possible links to DNA mutation in embryos possibly even leading to birth defects.
The Effects of EMF: Cancers and Tumours
A growing body of evidence suggests that mobile radiation is responsible for tumours and cancers. Of particular note has been brain tumours and breast cancer. A 2013 study showed an alarming link between young women keeping their phones tucked into their bras and incidences of breast cancer – unusual in women under forty who do not have a family history of the disease. A Berkeley University talk highlighted how thyroid and other neck cancers have also rocketed amongst younger adults, likely highly correlative with increased mobile phone usage.
Cancer is probably the leading concern amongst health professionals and scientists. EMFs affect our cells in extremely subtle ways but even tiny damage or disruption to gene signalling can potentially cause cancer.
The Effects of EMF: Oxidative Stress
Free radicals in the body are usually neutralised by antioxidants before they cause harm to our cells but studies show that the effects of EMF can possibly disrupt these processes. Oxidative stress is a contributing factor in the formation of many diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and autoimmune diseases. The potential for EMF to disrupt processes so closely associated with oxidative stress has been viewed as one of the most worrying potential public health timebombs associated with EMF radiation exposure.
The same study also found a range of potential negative effects on our hormonal and endocrine system.
How Much EMF Exposure is Needed to Cause Harm?
The scientific consensus is so strong now that the question isn’t whether mobile radiation is harmful, but how much exposure is needed to produce that harm, and over what length of time?
It will take years for scientists to establish the precise danger threshold. In the meantime, it is likely that millions, possibly billions, of people are sustaining long term, regular exposure to mobile radiation at a level capable of causing genetic damage. In fact, this study suggested over 3 billion humans a day are exposed to large amounts of EMFs. There’s huge potential for harm and it’s no wonder that the profile of scientific research looking into EMF is rising rapidly.
Proximity is the first risk factor that potentiates the effects of EMF. It’s widely regarded that many EMFs can only travel short distances. It is even possible that holding phones 1cm or so away from your head whilst on calls could markedly reduce the amount of radiation you absorb.
The closer your phone is to your body the greater the risk. Raising your phone to your ear when on a call exposes your brain to increased electromagnetic radiation. If you regularly keep your mobile in your pocket, or anywhere else near a sensitive organ, the mobile radiation will enter your body. The greater the proximity, the greater the potential damage to cells and DNA, causing tumours, cancers, and male and female infertility.
Alongside proximity is the duration of exposure periods. As mentioned, mobile phone usage statistics are staggering. It’s fairly certain that most adults and many children spend long enough on their phones or electronic devices to allow for a large window of risk.
Not all phones and devices output the highest levels of radiation. Mobile phone radiation is typically measured using specific absorption rate, or SAR. Read up on which iPhones emit the most SAR here and which Android phones emit the most SAR here. Phones also emit greater radiation under different use conditions. For example, a phone with limited signal will ramp up its efforts to find one which in turn causes a massive increase in the radiation it outputs. It’s possible that phones with poor reception, therefore, emit more radiation – this could be particularly problematic for those that commute on underground trains or metros.
Summaries of Scientific Evidence
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the danger that electromagnetic radiation poses. As a result, scientists have looked at several areas of risk, and there are now multiple studies to support the conclusion that mobile radiation represents a significant threat.
The most severe consequence of exposure to electromagnetic radiation is the potential increased risk of infertility, cancer, tumours, and genetic damage.
Below are a number of scientific studies on the topic of mobile radiation and male fertility. We have summarised a few of them into plain English for easier reading, or you can continue down to read the original studies in full.
- University of Exeter Study
- Cleveland Clinic Study
- Lincoln University Study
- Turkish Medical Academy Study
- Cleveland Clinic Foundation Study
This 2009 study shows that exposure of semen samples to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation significantly reduces the vitality and motility of spermatozoa. Radiation can also increase levels of oxidative stress, causing DNA damage and subsequent fertility issues. These problems can lead to miscarriage, offspring morbidity and childhood cancer. [Link: Read this study]
This 2014 study conducted using 1492 samples shows that exposure to mobile phones is associated with reduced motility and viability of spermatozoa. This could be due to increased levels of oxidative stress, causing DNA fragmentation, and also an increase in temperature of the testes, reducing spermatogenesis. [Link: Read this study] [Link: Read a third-party summary of this study] [Link: Read our summary of this study]
This 2009 study found that exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation can cause increased levels of oxidative stress through uprated formation of reactive oxygen species. This can lead to accelerated neuronal and spermatozoal cell death, promoting the onset of neurodegenerative diseases as well as brain and testicular carcinogenesis. [Link: Read this study] [Link: Read our summary of the study]
This 2010 study conducted on rabbits suggests that exposure to mobile phone radiation can have negative effects on Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Testosterone levels. Both of these hormones are involved in the production of spermatozoa cells, and a reduction or disturbance of these could lead to a decrease in quantity and quality of spermatozoa. [Link: Read this study]
This 2011 study conducted on rats shows that long-term exposure to mobile phone radiation (60 minutes per day for 3 months) can cause hypospermatogenesis and maturation arrest. A reduction in spermatozoa production and halted maturation could result in decreased semen volume and quality, and thus reduced fertility. [Link: Read this study]
This 2002 study suggests that electromagnetic radiation is genotoxic, meaning that it can damage DNA. Genotoxic repercussions can comprise of cancer, cardiac, neurological, and reproductive health effects. These can include miscarriage, depression, suicide, sleep disturbance, a multitude of cancer, cardiac and neurological effects and death. [Link: Read this study] [Link: Read our summary of this study]
This 2010 study conducted on rats found that exposure to electromagnetic radiation for 60 minutes a day for 3 months reduced serum levels of testosterone. Low levels of testosterone can cause a number of health problems, including hypospermatogenesis. [Link: Read this study]
The comparisons of mean sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology among four different cell phone user groups were statistically significant. Mean sperm motility, viability, and normal morphology were significantly different in cell phone user groups within two sperm count groups. The laboratory values of the above four sperm parameters decreased in all four cell phone user groups as the duration of daily exposure to cell phones increased. [Link: Read this study]
As mobile phone usage is growing rapidly, there is a need for a comprehensive analysis of the literature to inform scientific debates about the adverse effects of mobile phone radiation on sperm quality traits. Therefore, we conducted a meta-analysis of the eligible published research studies on human males of reproductive age. Eleven studies were eligible for this analysis. Based on the meta-analysis, mobile phone use was significantly associated with deterioration in semen quality (Hedges’s g = -0.547; 95% CI: -0.713, -0.382; p < 0.001). The traits particularly affected adversely were sperm concentration, sperm morphology, sperm motility, the proportion of non-progressive motile sperm (%), the proportion of slow progressive motile sperm (%), and sperm viability. [Link: Read this study]
Use of cell phones decreases the semen quality in men by decreasing the sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology. The decrease in sperm parameters was dependent on the duration of daily exposure to cell phones and independent of the initial semen quality. [Link: Read this study]
These data suggest that EMR emitted by cellular phone influences human sperm motility. In addition to these acute adverse effects of EMR on sperm motility, long-term EMR exposure may lead to behavioural or structural changes of the male germ cell. These effects may be observed later in life, and they are to be investigated more seriously. [Link: Read this study]
Radiofrequency electromagnetic waves emitted from cell phones may lead to oxidative stress in human semen. We speculate that keeping the cell phone in a trouser pocket in talk mode may negatively affect spermatozoa and impair male fertility. [Link: Read this study]
A recent study found that the use of cell phones adversely affects the quality of semen by decreasing the sperm counts, motility, viability and morphology. Evidence of the detrimental effect of mobile phones on male fertility is still equivocal as studies have revealed a wide spectrum of possible effects ranging from insignificant effects to variable degrees of testicular damage. Although previous studies suggested a role of cell phone use in male infertility, the mode of action of EMW emitted from cell phones on the male reproductive system is still unclear. EMW can affect the reproductive system via an EMW-specific effect, thermal molecular effect or combination of both. Studies performed on human males are scarce and therefore further studies with a careful design are needed to determine the effect of cell phone use on male-fertilizing potential. [Link: Read this study]
The problem of the lack of offspring is a phenomenon concerning approximately 15% of married couples in Poland. Infertility is defined as inability to conceive after a year of sexual intercourses without the use of contraceptives. In half of the cases, the causative factor is the male. Males are exposed to the effect of various environmental factors, which may decrease their reproductive capabilities. A decrease in male fertility is a phenomenon which occurs within years, which may suggest that one of the reasons for the decrease in semen parameters is the effect of the development of techniques in the surrounding environment. A hazardous effect on male fertility may be manifested by a decrease in the number of sperm cells, disorders in their mobility, as well as structure. [Link: Read this study]
Rats exposed to 6 hours of daily cellular phone emissions for 18 weeks exhibited a significantly higher incidence of sperm cell death than control group rats through chi-squared analysis. In addition, abnormal clumping of sperm cells was present in rats exposed to cellular phone emissions and was not present in control group rats. These results suggest that carrying cell phones near reproductive organs could negatively affect male fertility. [Link: Read this study]
This study was conducted to determine a possible relationship between regular cell phone use and different human semen attributes. The history-taking of men in our university clinic was supplemented with questions concerning cell phone use habits, including possession, daily standby position and daily transmission times. Semen analyses were performed by conventional methods. Statistics were calculated with SPSS statistical software. A total of 371 were included in the study. The duration of possession and the daily transmission time-correlated negatively with the proportion of rapid progressive motile sperm (r = − 0.12 and r = − 0.19, respectively), and positively with the proportion of slow progressive motile sperm (r = 0.12 and r = 0.28, respectively). The low and high transmitter groups also differed in the proportion of rapid progressive motile sperm (48.7% vs. 40.6%). The prolonged use of cell phones may have negative effects on sperm motility characteristics. [Link: Read this study]
Over the past decade, the use of mobile phones has increased significantly. However, with every technological development comes some element of health concern, and cell phones are no exception. Recently, various studies have highlighted the negative effects of cell phone exposure on human health, and concerns about possible hazards related to cell phone exposure have been growing. This is a comprehensive, up-to-the-minute overview of the effects of cell phone exposure on human health. The types of cell phones and cell phone technologies currently used in the world are discussed in an attempt to improve the understanding of the technical aspects, including the effect of cell phone exposure on the cardiovascular system, sleep and cognitive function, as well as localized and general adverse effects, genotoxicity potential, neurohormonal secretion and tumour induction. [Link: Read this study]
The radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) produced by cell phones can enhance the excitability of the brain and has recently been classified as carcinogenic. The suggested use of hands-free kits lowers the exposure to the brain, but it might theoretically increase exposure to the reproductive organs. This report summarizes the potential effects of RF-EMR on reproductive potentials in both males and females. [Link: Read this study]
Mobile phones usage has seen exponential growth recently. With this increasing demand, the amount of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) exposed is also increasing. Hence, we studied the effect of these radiations on ejaculated human semen and speculate the contribution of these harmful radiations in male infertility. Samples exposed to EMR showed a significant decrease in sperm motility and viability, increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) and DNA fragmentation index (DFI) compared to the unexposed group. We concluded that mobile phones emit electromagnetic waves which lead to oxidative stress in human semen and also cause changes in DNA fragmentation. We extrapolate these findings to speculate that these radiations may negatively affect spermatozoa and impair male fertility. [Link: Read this study]
This is an in-vitro pilot study which established the effect of radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from 2.4 GHz laptop antenna on human semen. Ten samples of the semen, collected from donors between the ages of 20 and 30 years were exposed when the source of the RFR was in active mode. Sequel to the exposure, both the exposed samples and another ten unexposed samples from same donors were analysed for sperm concentration, motility and morphology grading. A test of significance between results of these semen parameters using Mann-Whitney U-test at 0.05 level of significance showed a significant effect of RFR exposure on the semen parameters considered. [Link: Read this study]
Concern has arisen over human exposures to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RFEMR), including a recent report indicating that regular mobile phone use can negatively impact upon human semen quality. These effects would be particularly serious if the biological effects of RFEMR included the induction of DNA damage in male germ cells. In this study, mice were exposed to 900 MHz RFEMR at a specific absorption rate of approximately 90 mW/kg inside a waveguide for 7 days at 12 h per day. Following exposure, DNA damage to caudal epididymal spermatozoa was assessed by quantitative PCR (QPCR) as well as alkaline and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. The treated mice were overtly normal and all assessment criteria, including sperm number, morphology and vitality were not significantly affected. Gel electrophoresis revealed no gross evidence of increased single- or double-DNA strand breakage in spermatozoa taken from treated animals. [Link: Read this study]
Several recent studies have indicated that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) have an adverse effect on human sperm quality, which could translate into an effect on fertilization potential. This study evaluated the effect of RF-EMF on sperm-specific characteristics to assess the fertilizing competence of sperm. Highly motile human spermatozoa were exposed for 1 h to 900-MHz mobile phone radiation at a specific absorption rate of 2.0 W/kg and examined at various times after exposure. The acrosome reaction was evaluated using flow cytometry. The radiation did not affect sperm propensity for the acrosome reaction. Morphometric parameters were assessed using computer-assisted sperm analysis. Significant reduction in sperm head area (9.2 ± 0.7 μm2 vs. 18.8 ± 1.4 μm2) and acrosome percentage of the head area (21.5 ± 4% vs. 35.5 ± 11.4%) was reported among exposed sperm compared with unexposed controls. [Link: Read this study]
Ejaculated, density purified, human spermatozoa were exposed to pulsed 900 MHz GSM mobile phone radiation at two specific absorption rate levels (SAR 2.0 and 5.7 W/kg) and compared with controls over time. Change in sperm mitochondrial membrane potential was analysed using flow cytometry. Sperm motility was determined by computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA). There was no effect of pulsed 900 MHz GSM radiation on mitochondrial membrane potential. This was also the case for all kinematic parameters assessed at a SAR of 2.0 W/kg. However, over time, the two kinematic parameters straight-line velocity (VSL) and beat-cross frequency (BCF) were significantly impaired (P < 0.05) after the exposure at SAR 5.7 W/kg and no exposure by time interaction were present. This result should not be ascribed to thermal effects, due to the cooling methods employed in the RF chamber and temperature control within the incubator. [Link: Read this study]
Cell phones have become a vital part of everyday life. However, the health risks associated with their usage are often overlooked. Recently, evidence from several studies supports a growing claim that cell phone usage may have a detrimental effect on sperm parameters leading to decreased male fertility. Nonetheless, other studies showed no conclusive link between male infertility and cell phone usage. The ambiguity of such results is attributed to the lack of a centralized assay for measuring inflicted damage caused by cell phones. Study design, ethics, and reproducibility are all aspects which must be standardized before any conclusions can be made. [Link: Read this study]
The use of mobile phones is now widespread. A great debate exists about the possible damage that the radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by mobile phones exerts on different organs and apparatuses. The aim of this article was to review the existing literature exploring the effects of RF-EMR on the male reproductive function in experimental animals and humans. Studies have been conducted in rats, mice, and rabbits using a similar design based upon mobile phone RF exposure for variable lengths of time. Together, the results of these studies have shown that RF-EMR decreases sperm count and motility and increases oxidative stress. In humans, 2 different experimental approaches have been followed: one has explored the effects of RF-EMR directly on spermatozoa and the other has evaluated the sperm parameters in men using or not using mobile phones. The results showed that human spermatozoa exposed to RF-EMR have decreased motility, morphometric abnormalities, and increased oxidative stress, whereas men using mobile phones have decreased sperm concentration, decreased motility (particularly rapid progressive motility), normal morphology, and decreased viability. These abnormalities seem to be directly related to the duration of mobile phone use. [Link: Read this study]
One hour of exposure to the phone did not significantly change facial temperature in either group of rats. No significant difference was observed in total sperm count between controls and RF-EMR exposed groups. However, rats exposed to RF-EMR exhibited a significantly reduced percentage of motile sperm. Moreover, RF-EMR exposure resulted in a significant increase in lipid peroxidation and low GSH content in the testis and epididymis. [Link: Read this study]
A significant decrease in protein kinase C and total sperm count along with increased apoptosis were observed in male Wistar rats exposed to mobile phone frequencies (2 h/day × 35 days at 0.9 W/kg specific absorption rate). The results suggest that a reduction in protein kinase activity may be related to overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) under microwave field exposure. The decrease in sperm count and an increase in apoptosis may be a causative factor due to mobile radiation exposure leading to infertility. [Link: Read this study]
A case of four young women—aged from 21 to 39—with multifocal invasive breast cancer that raises the concern of a possible association with nonionizing radiation of electromagnetic field exposures from cellular phones. All patients regularly carried their smartphones directly against their breasts in their brassieres for up to 10 hours a day, for several years, and developed tumours in areas of their breasts immediately underlying the phones. All patients had no family history of breast cancer, tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2, and had no other known breast cancer risks. [Link: Read this study]
The message from these and other studies is loud and clear: to protect your health, to protect your body, you need to avoid exposing your body to mobile radiation.