Approximately 1 in 20 Australian men are affected by infertility. Male infertility accounts for half of all infertility issues and increases with age.
Most men have a fairly good understanding that smoking tobacco or marijuana may impact on their fertility, but few recognise that alcohol, caffeine, radiation, heat stress, hydrogenated oils (in processed foods, especially cottonseed oil), may also reduce fertility. Pesticides, environmental and industrial chemicals and heavy metals such as dioxins, DDT, PCBs, carbon disulphide, cadmium, lead, copper and mercury as well as other xeno-estrogens also impact on male fertility. The damaging effects of oxidative stress on sperm are considered to be responsible for 30 % to 80 % of male subfertility cases.
One of the most common issues now facing most men in developed countries, is radiation.
Ill effects from microwave radiation on testicular health were reported from as early as 1962. Since then the most common source for microwave radiation are transmission lines, computer monitors, radio, television, mobile phones, microwave ovens, laptops and Wi-Fi. Further exposure is possible due to the more recent introduction of airport security scanners and anti-theft devices operated at the exits of shops. A 2010 review of over 31 studies also demonstrated an association between radiation and testicular cancer.
Studies show a higher radiation absorption rate occurs while talking on mobile phones, or storing phones in pockets, using laptop computers connected to Wi-Fi, and frequent use of microwave ovens. A paper published in 2018 in Reproduction Biolology Endocrinology, highlights radiation decreases sperm count, sperm quality, motility, viability and morphology, which may all contribute to male infertility.
Radiation exposure is also suggested to cause DNA damage, reduction in testosterone and may give rise to fetal loss and defects in embryo development due to increased oxidative stress. A 2013 study showed that radiation exposure also causes the diameter and weight of the seminiferous tubules (that carry sperm), to change.
Radiation is also shown to disrupt brain functions which in turn may lead to decreased testicular and thyroid hormones through feedback mechanisms. Radiation may reduce testosterone, production of sperm and our key sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin may also indirectly alter the production of sex hormones and fertility.
The extent of the damage and degree of infertility depends on the radiation dosage and human studies verifying safe or detrimental levels are lacking. Essentially, any electromagnetic radiation including those deriving from cell phone, cell phone towers, laptop, microwave ovens etc. may lead to detrimental effects on fertility.
Protective measures against radiation
A 2005 study demonstrated that daily higher antioxidant intake over the normal dietary intake is associated with higher sperm counts, increased sperm motility, and improvements in natural and assisted conception pregnancy rates. The study also reported that antioxidant intake, may attenuate the impact of age on sperm motility.
Several studies suggest green tea (Camellia sinensis), may improve male fertility and significantly improve sperm parameters by reducing oxidative stress due to its antioxidants (polyphenols) which strongly inhibit reactive oxidative stress and have a preventative role against radiation. Polyphenols may also have anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-mutagenic, anti-bacterial, and chemo-preventive properties. Daily consumption of green tea may also protect the cardiovascular system, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels. For more information on our favourite types of green tea click here.
Studies show melatonin may reverse the effects of radiation on sperm count, testosterone and DNA fragmentation by reducing oxidative stress and protecting membrane lipids, proteins, and DNA from oxidative damage. Green tea also acts as a potent antioxidant to detoxify oxidative species and stimulates antioxidative enzymes.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) or ubiquinol supplement may also support men with low sperm counts or motility. CoQ10 is an essential co-factor in the second phase of energy production and a powerful antioxidant protecting lipoproteins and cell membranes. It is used in clinical practice for cardiovascular health, male infertility, neurodegenerative disease and to protect against the side effects of statins. However, it is also taken as an anti-aging substance and to improve endurance in athletes. CoQ10 supplementation has been found to ameliorate the reduction in testosterone induced by chemicals.