By Marina Zhang
As exposures to wireless and electronic devices and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) increase, so does the worry about rising infertility and miscarriage rates, leading to questions about a possible connection.
Infertility is increasingly affecting younger people of reproductive age; around 1 in 5 couples struggle with infertility, and miscarriage rates have been increasing by 1 percent every year.
EMFs and Reproductive Organ Damage
EMFs from wireless and electronic devices can induce oxidative stress within cells sensitive to these environmental signals.
Organs involved in reproduction are vulnerable to damage from EMFs, and animal studies have established a connection.
In female rats, whole-body exposure to EMFs damages the ovaries, though the same effects have not been found in humans.
EMFs have been shown to inhibit ovulation and damage ovarian reserves. Certain EMF frequencies have been shown to affect follicular growth, which can impair fertility since follicles are responsible for fertilizing eggs.
Exposures to EMFs have also been shown to prolong the mating cycle in animals.
Mice exposed to mobile phone radiofrequency tended to develop damage to the testis. In a 2021 study exposing male mice to 4G mobile phone radiation, the mice grew irregular cell layers in their reproductive organs. The study concluded that 4G radiation may affect the animals’ kidney and testis tissue.
A review published in Electronic Physician found that EMF exposures reduced and killed mice cells in charge of producing sperm. Studies mentioned in the review found that EMF exposure also caused DNA breaks in embryonic stem cells.
EMFs can directly affect the pineal gland, a master gland regulating hormonal balance. This reduces melatonin, a hormone governing the sleep-wake cycle and reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Melatonin is also involved in sperm production.
Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet, a preventive medicine specialist, noted that the rise in radiofrequency EMFs is recent, leading to limited research on its health effects on human reproductive organs.
“The iPhone was invented in 2007. That’s not long enough for extensive studies,” said Dr. Vliet.
Dr. Vliet recommends antioxidants like vitamins C, D, E, and melatonin to prevent EMF damage. Antioxidants counteract EMF-induced oxidation, reducing cell and tissue stress.
While conclusive evidence is lacking, these molecules could intervene in EMF injuries, preventing cellular stress and tissue damage.
EMFs Damage Sperm
Multiple studies, including human, have shown that EMF exposures damage sperm.
“Sperm are uniquely susceptible to oxidation,” said professor Geoffrey De Iuliis from the University of Newcastle, specializing in reproductive medicine.
Sperm cells are designed with a singular purpose: to swim rapidly and fertilize eggs. Hence, their cytosol, a component of cytoplasm, is small. The limited cytosol restricts the presence of antioxidants that could neutralize oxidative stress induced by EMFs.
Oxidation further leads to DNA damage and impairments in sperm health and motility. The protective agents in sperm guarding DNA are also limited.
Sperm also have more oxidation-susceptible polyunsaturated fat than saturated fat in their membranes to promote fluidity.
Observational studies have linked increased mobile phone usage with a higher risk of male infertility.
Urologist Dr. Ashok Agrawal’s research highlighted that men who used their phones less frequently displayed higher semen volume, sperm count, motility, viability, and normal structure. Conversely, escalating usage from zero to two to four hours was associated with declining sperm health.
Numerous laboratory studies where researchers exposed sperm samples to both ELF and radiofrequency EMFs have shown impaired sperm motility and DNA. This was demonstrated in a study exposing human sperm to 1 millitesla of ELF EMF for two hours. Urologist Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy, an associate professor at the University of Miami, led the most recent study on Wi-Fi exposures and found that sperm were particularly sensitive to Wi-Fi EMF and not 4G or 5G.
Researchers are uncertain how these findings translate in real life. There has yet to be a consensus on whether oxidation is the main driver of EMF damage, despite gaining recognition, Mr. De Iuliis said.
According to Mr. De Iuliis, even a slight increase in temperature, just a few degrees, can elicit similar effects on sperm cells, whether in animals or in vitro.
Regarding the connection between EMF exposures and male infertility, Mr. De Iuliis refrained from definitively attributing the phenomenon, suggesting that if an effect exists, it’s likely subtle due to the absence of significant shifts in infertility rates since the advent of mobile phones and wireless devices.
However, epidemiologist Devra Davis, an environmental health scientist, founder of the Environmental Health Trust, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, supports the link, emphasizing that even findings from animal studies carry weight.
“Every drug that we use today is tested out in animals. How could you reject studies of animals when it comes to predicting the environment?” she said.
For concerned men, Dr. Ramasamy recommended reducing device usage and maintaining a distance from primary sources of wireless EMF, such as cellphones and radio towers. Furthermore, avoid placement of phones in pant pockets near the testes.
EMF Exposures and Miscarriages
EMF exposure during pregnancy is well linked with miscarriages, Kjell Hansson Mild, radiation consultant from Umea University, told The Epoch Times.
Epidemiological studies on birth defects and abortions in pregnant women working in offices revealed that the EMF emitted from a computer monitor can impair human reproduction.
Perhaps the most well-known study comes from Kaiser Permanente in California. The study followed over 900 pregnant women and evaluated the link between nonionizing EMF exposures and miscarriage risks.
Women exposed to higher magnetic field levels had almost triple the risk of miscarriage compared to those with lower exposure.
“Due to the current lack of research on this subject, we don’t know the biological threshold beyond which problems may develop, and we also don’t yet understand the possible mechanisms for increased risks,” the lead author Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente, said in a press release.
Another 2021 study in Iran concluded that EMFs with a frequency above 50 Hz increase the risk of miscarriage.
The link between EMF exposure and miscarriage raises the question of health risks due to ultrasound exposure during pregnancy. Ultrasound also produces EMFs.
Studies have shown that ultrasound can increase oxidation, though its adverse effects in humans remain inconclusive.
“Currently, there is no reliable evidence that ultrasound is harmful to a developing fetus,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote on its website. “However, it is possible that effects could be identified in the future. For this reason, it is recommended that ultrasound exams be performed only for medical reasons by qualified health care providers.”
However, the risks of EMFs may continue after babies are born.
A 2018 study that followed around 3,000 pregnant women found that, on average, those who used phones regularly were more likely to have children with lower mean cognition scores. A Spanish study also linked mobile phone use with an increased risk of behavioral problems in the offspring.