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Effects of electromagnetic waves emitted from 3G+wi-fi modems on human semen analysis

Abstract

Objective

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of 3G+wifi modems on human sperm quality.

A total of 40 semen specimens were gathered between March and September 2015, from healthy adult men.

Methods

The sperm samples were divided into two groups – 3G+wi-fi exposed and unexposed groups. In the unexposed group, the specimens were shielded by aluminum foil in three layers and put into an incubator at a temperature of 37°C for 50 minutes. The exposed group was positioned in another room in an incubator at a temperature of 37°C for 50 minutes. A 3G+wi-fi modem was put into the same incubator and a laptop computer was connected to the modem and was downloading for the entire 50 minutes.

Semen analysis was done for each specimen and comparisons between parameters of the two groups were done by using Kolmogorov-Smirnov study and a paired t-test.

Results

Mean percentage of sperm with class A and B motility were not significantly different in two groups (p = 0.22 and 0.54, respectively). In class C, it was significantly lower in the exposed group (p = 0.046), while in class D it was significantly higher (p = 0.022).

Velocity curvilinear, velocity straight line, velocity average path, mean angular displacement, lateral displacement and beat cross frequency were significantly higher in the unexposed group. The limitation was the in vitro design.

Conclusions

Electromagnetic waves (EMWs) emitted from 3G+wi-fi modems cause a significant decrease in sperm motility and velocity, especially in non-progressive motile sperms. Other parameters of semen analysis did not change significantly.

EMWs, which are used in communications worldwide, are a suspected cause of male infertility. Many studies evaluated the effects of cell phones and wi-fi on fertility. To our knowledge, no study has yet been done to show the effects of EMWs emitted from 3G+wi-fi modems on fertility.

Our study revealed a significant decrease in the quality of human semen after exposure to EMWs emitted from 3G+wi-fi modems.

Urologia 2017; 84(4): 209 - 214

Article Type: ORIGINAL RESEARCH ARTICLE

DOI:10.5301/uj.5000269

Authors

Koosha Kamali, Mohammadmehdi Atarod, Saeedeh Sarhadi, Javad Nikbakht, Maryam Emami, Robab Maghsoudi, Hormoz Salimi, Bita Fallahpour, Negar Kamali, Abdolreza Momtazan, Mojtaba Ameli

Article History

Disclosures

Financial support: No grants or funding have been received for this study.
Conflict of interest: None of the authors has financial interest related to this study to disclose.

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Introduction

In recent decades, there has been a decrease in male sex offspring (1). Also, 15% of young couples are infertile. It is thought that 50% of infertility cases can be attributed to male factors (2, 3). Electromagnetic waves (EMWs), which are used in communications worldwide, are a suspected cause of these changes. Nowadays, progress in communications has caused faster connection speeds by using higher EMW frequency. Digital cellular system (3G) uses frequency of 1800 MHz, while previously, Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) used 902.5 MHz (4). The question is whether these higher frequency EMWs can cause damage to biological cells, fertility, and a decrease in male sex offspring. Many studies were performed to show the effect of cell phones on fertility and biological tissues. Fewer studies have been done to show the effect of wi-fi on fertility. To our knowledge, no study has yet been done to show the effects of EMWs emitted from 3G+wi-fi modems on fertility.

EMWs have energy in electric and magnetic fields which are perpendicular to each other. Magnetic field energy is the most harmful to biological tissues (5). Higher frequencies have higher energies (6).

EMWs can damage the cells through thermal and non-thermal mechanisms. Non-thermal mechanisms are more important (7). EMWs can cause damage to the cell’s membrane by electroporations altering the calcium (Ca) metabolism (8). These resulting perforations will cause adenosine triphosphate (ATP), calcium (Ca), and many useful ions to pass out of the cell. Ca is an intracellular second messenger which activates protein kinase C (PKC). PKC controls cell proliferations, proteins synthesis, cells apoptosis and sperms' flagella movements (9-10-11).

EMWs activate lysosomes and cause cells apoptosis (12). They also cause mitochondria to produce more reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can cause oxidative stress, protein denaturation and fat peroxidation (13, 14).

EMWs can activate heat shock proteins (HSPs), which repair the damaged parts of the cells and protect against apoptosis (15), thus, enabling more cells with multiple damage to stay alive (16).

These waves are also genotoxic and cause injury to DNA through two mechanisms. First is by direct injury to DNA and making mutations, and second by producing ROS, which is harmful for DNA (13, 17). EMWs also reduce histone kinase, which is necessary for the cells to pass through Growth2 phase of cell cycle (G2) to mitosis phase (M) (18).

To determine the effects of EMW on biological tissues, specific absorption rate (SAR) is used. According to the Federal Communication Committee (FCC) maximum SAR should not exceed 1.6 W/kg (7).

A study by Wang et al, found that Leydig cells are prone to injury by EMWs. They also found a decrease in serum testosterone after exposure to these waves (19). Kesari et al also found an increase in Leydig cell apoptosis after exposure to these waves (20).

EMWs can also damage Sertoli cells; one study showed high anti-sperm antibodies (ASA) in serum of 90% of men exposed to EMWs (21). Atasoy et al found injury to testicles and sperm of rats after exposure to wi-fi (22).

To compare effects of EMWs of cell phones versus wi-fi, a study in 2015 showed that cell phones can cause less injury (23).

Materials and methods

This study took place from March 2015 until September 2015. In Iran, masturbation is only legal if it has medical indications. We collected the samples from patients who were candidates for hydrocelectomy or herniorraphy, because these two diseases don’t interfere with spermatogenesis and we needed semen analysis pre-operation to rule out azoospermia for legal purposes. Patients were all aged >18 years and were able to masturbate. All were informed and a letter of satisfaction was written. They had no other medical or genetic disorders and had no bacterial or viral diseases in the past four weeks.

After 2 to 5 days of sexual abstinence, masturbation was done without using lubricant and immediately the samples were collected. After liquefaction, the samples were analyzed macroscopically and divided into two parts with equal volume.

The first sample (to be called the unexposed group) was covered with aluminum foil in three layers for shielding and placed in an incubator at a temperature of 37°C for 50 minutes.

Aluminum was used due to its cost and its ability to reflect EMWs, which is the best way to shield radiofrequency waves (24). An electromagnetic field meter (Gauss meter) covered with three layers of aluminum foil showed no EMW activity.

The second sample (to be called the exposed group) was positioned in another room in an incubator at a temperature of 37°C for 50 minutes. A D-Link 3G DWR-730 wireless modem was put into the incubator 10 cm from the sample.

A Sony VAIO CW26FG laptop computer was placed 50 cm away from the incubator. The laptop was connected to the modem and was downloading data for the entire 50 minutes. The samples were always positioned between the modem and the laptop. D–Link 3G DWR-730, is a wireless modem that is connected to the internet through 3G EMWs and is shared between users with wi-fi. Its maximal SAR is 1.3 and makes 2400 to 2446.5 MHz frequency with a power density of 10 mW.

The temperature and power density of the EMW was measured every 10 minutes with a thermometer and an EMF meter.

The samples were then analyzed with HFTCASA semi-automated semen analysis system. The single and experienced operator was also blind to the exposed and unexposed groups to reduce bias.

All data including sperm counts, PH, morphology, motility (group A, B, C and D), velocity curvilinear, velocity straight line, velocity average path, lateral displacement and beat cross frequency, linearity, wobble, straightness and total motile sperm count were imported to SPSS V22 software. Some of these parameters are definerrrrrd in Table I and Figure 1. We used Kolmogorov–Smirnov study and paired t-test to analyze the data. A p-value <0.05 was considered significant in this study.

Definition of measured parameters

Characteristics Definition
Velocity curvilinear (VCL) Point-to-point velocity (total distance traveled) per second
Velocity straight line (VSL) Velocity measured using the average path and the point reached that is furthest from the origin during the measured time period
Velocity average path (VAP) Point-to-point velocity on a path constructed using a roaming average
Linearity (LIN) VSL/VCL; describes path curvature
Wobble (WOB) VAP/VCL; describes side-to-side movements of the sperm head
Straightness (STR) VSL/VAP; shows the straightness of the path
Beat cross frequency (BCF) The number of times that the sperm heads cross the average path per second
Lateral displacement (ALH) Maximal displacement of sperm head from average path (micrometer)
Mean angular displacement (MAD) Mean angular displacement of sperm head (degree)

Sperm motility parameters.

Results

After excluding azoospermic and pyospermic samples, 40 samples remained in the study. Samples were gathered from healthy men who were aged between 19 and 45 years, with a mean age of 28.75 years. All data and analyses are shown in Table II. Mean semen volume wras 4.8 and the mean pH was 7.6. The mean sperm count in the unexposed group and the exposed group was 62.6 mill/mL and 63.2 mill/mL, respectively, which showed no significant difference (p = 0.639).

Data analysis (significance <0.05)

Variable Group Mean SD Kolmogorov–Smirnov (p value) Mean differences SD of differences Significance
SD = standard deviation; BCF = beat cross frequency; VCL = velocity curvilinear; VSL = velocity straight line; VAP = velocity average path; MAD = mean angular displacement; ALH = lateral displacement; LIN = linearity; WOB = wobble; STR = straightness; TMC = total motile sperm count.
Volume Total 4.81 2.03 0.2 - - -
pH Total 7.6 0.1 0.035 - - -
Sperm count Unexposed 62.6 33.4 0.2 -0.58 5.4 0.639
Exposed 63.2 33.7 0.19
Class A motility Unexposed 25.07 13.04 0.2 1.33 4.7 0.22
Exposed 23.7 13.08 0.2
Class B motility Unexposed 32.7 7.1 0.2 0.65 4.7 0.54
Exposed 32 7.5 0.2
Class C motility Unexposed 6.39 3.02 0.2 1.23 2.5 0.046
Exposed 5.15 1.8 0.2
Class D motility Unexposed 35.7 14 0.2 -3.22 5.8 0..22
Exposed 39 12.8 0.2
Motile sperms Unexposed 64.2 14 0.2 3.22 5.8 0.022
Exposed 60.9 12.8 0.2
Forward progressive sperm Unexposed 57.8 13.3 0.2 1.99 4.8 0.081
Exposed 55.8 12.5 0.2
VCL Unexposed 28.6 9.1 0.2 3.45 4.1 0.001
Exposed 25.1 7.2 0.19
VSL Unexposed 12.6 4.4 0.2 1.04 1.5 0.007
Exposed 11.59 1.4 0.2
VAP Unexposed 17.58 5.1 0.2 1.6 2 0.002
Exposed 15.97 4.6 0.2
MAD Unexposed 31.58 10.4 0.2 3.66 4 0.001
Exposed 27.92 8.2 0.2
ALH Unexposed 1.45 0.4 0.2 0.17 0.2 0.002
Exposed 1.27 0.3 0.191
BCF Unexposed 4.09 1.3 0.2 0.36 0.3 0.001
Exposed 3.72 1.2 0.077
LIN Unexposed 29.22 8.3 0.2 0.61 3.1 0.4
Exposed 28.5 8.2 0.2
WOB Unexposed 40.71 9.05 0.2 1.03 3.7 0.227
Exposed 39.67 8.8 0.2
STR Unexposed 44.95 12.1 0.2 1.94 4.5 0.071
Exposed 43 11.3 0.2
TMC Unexposed 380.04 243.7 0.2 15.7 42.2 0.113
Exposed 364.3 239.3 0.08

The mean percentage of sperm with class A motility in the unexposed group and the exposed group was 25.07 and 23.7, respectively, which showed no significant difference (p = 0.22). The percentage of sperm with class B motility was 32.7 and 32.0 in the unexposed and exposed groups, respectively, which was not significant (p = 0.54). The mean percentage of sperm with class C motility was significantly lower in the exposed group compared to the unexposed group (p = 0.046). The percentage of sperm with class D motility (immotile sperms) was significantly higher in the exposed group compared to the unexposed group (p = 0.022).

The mean motile sperm percentage (A + B + C) was significantly higher in the unexposed group compared to the exposed group (p = 0.022). However, forward progressive sperm percentage (A + B) was not significantly different in the exposed and the unexposed groups (p = 0.081).

Velocity curvilinear, velocity straight line, velocity average path, mean angular displacement, lateral displacement and beat cross frequency were significantly higher in the unexposed group (p = 0.001, 0.007, 0.002, 0.001, 0.002 and 0.001, respectively). But linearity, wobble, and straightness were not significantly different in the two groups (p = 0.4, 0.227 and 0.071, respectively). Total motile sperm count was not significantly different in the two groups (p = 0.113).

Discussion

To our knowledge this in vitro study is the first to show the effects of EMWs emitted through 3G+wi-fi modems on human semen analysis. Previously, several studies showed the effects of cell phones, and fewer studies showed the effects of wi-fi on semen analysis. One study compared the effects of wi-fi to cell phones on semen analysis and showed the more destructive effects of wi-fi (23). Nowadays, pocket modems are frequently used, especially by adult men of reproductive age. These modems are connected to the internet through 3G and share it between users with wi-fi. Therefore, we decided to see their effects on semen analysis.

There was no difference in pH and morphology between two groups. This is maybe due to short time of exposure to EMWs. A and B classes of motility in the exposed group had a lower percentage, but this difference was not significant. Perhaps if the exposure time had been longer, a significant difference would have been seen. Class C motility is significantly lower in the exposed group, while the D class motility is significantly higher. This shows that if a sperm has lower motile quality, it is more prone to become immotile. Dead sperms are also in the immotile category. It would be reasonable to check D group for the percentage of dead sperms to see if these waves can be fatal to the sperms.

Avendano et al found no difference in the viable sperm count in either group (exposure and non-exposure to wi-fi). They realized that laptop computers connected to the internet through wi-fi caused a decrease in sperm progressive motility and an increase in DNA fragmentation (25).

A retrospective study by Wdowiak et al (26) in 304 men, showed a significant decrease in forward progressive motile sperms in those who had used cell phones for at least for 2 years. An in vitro study by Agarwal et al (27) showed a significant decrease in sperm motility and viability and an increase in ROS after 1-hour exposure to wi-fi with SAR = 1.46 W/kg (27). De Iuliis et al (13) showed that by increasing SAR, there is a decrease in sperm motility and viability and an increase in sperm DNA fragmentation.

There was also a significantly lower velocity of sperms in post-exposure group in velocity curvilinear, velocity straight line and velocity average path. This lower velocity is due to lower beat cross frequency, lateral displacement, and mean angular displacement in this group, which are maybe due to alterations in Ca homeostasis, electroperforations, which cause ATP to exit from the cells and lower PKC, which is an important enzyme for sperm flagella movement control. Falzone et al (28) showed a decrease in sperm straight line velocity and beat cross frequency after exposure to EMWs with SAR = 5 W/kg.

Although sperm velocity was significantly lower in the post-exposure group, there was no significant deviation from the straight line in the two groups, which shows that these waves did not interfere with the directions of sperm movement.

In a study by Eisenberg et al (29) on the effects of total motile sperm count (TMC) on the ratio of Y-containing to X-containing chromosomes showed that lower TMC reduces Y-containing chromosomes and thus there is lower chance of male offspring. This is because natural selection wants to inhibit men with low quality sperm from passing their genome on Y-chromosomes to the next generation.

In our study TMC was lower in postexposure group but it was not significant. Consequently, EMWs in this study have no effects on offspring gender. This is contrary to Baste et al (30) whose epidemiological study showed a significant decrease in male offspring of the Norwegian military who were exposed to high-power densities of EMWs (30).

Limitations

The most important limitation of this study is the in vitro design. Therefore, we cannot generalize it to in vivo situations. Due to high costs, we were unable to check the effect of EMW on DNA by checking DNA fragmentation. Another limitation was that due to the increase in D class motility; it would have been better to have checked the sperm viability to see if EMWs can kill them.

Conclusions

EMWs emitted from modems using 3G and wi-fi simultaneously, can cause a significant decrease in sperm motility and velocity in an in vitro situation. This decrease is less significant in progressive sperms, while non-progressive motile sperms became non-motile, significantly. A decrease in velocity was seen but the sperm direction did not change significantly. Semen analysis showed no significant change in morphology, sperm count or other parameters.. EMWs, even at a SAR of <1.6, which is considered non-harmful by FCC, can cause biological damage. Further in vivo evaluations are mandatory.

Disclosures

Financial support: No grants or funding have been received for this study.
Conflict of interest: None of the authors has financial interest related to this study to disclose.
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Authors

Affiliations

  • Department of Urology, Iran University of Medical Science, Hasheminejad Kidney Center Hospital, Tehran - Iran
  • Department of Epidemiology and Biostatics, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran - Iran
  • Gonabad University of Medical Sciences, Gonabad - Iran

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