Modern living can be a real drag, particularly if you’re a sperm cell it seems. In July came news of the publication of a scientific review that appeared to confirm the suspicions of many a soothsayer down the ages. Verily, the seed of human existence looks to be drying up.
According to study authors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sperm counts and concentration figures in the West have halved since the early 1970s, and continue to fall at an alarming rate. Might the baron dystopia of intergenerational fruitlessness, foretold by many a cackling witch down the ages, indeed be just around the corner?
As the news broke, Edinburgh University’s Professor Richard Sharpe was on hand to reassure us that “the end of humanity is not approaching”.
Alas, those of the Sir David Attenborough (“we are a plague on earth”) school, quick to cheer the report, may have been a little premature in rejoicing. A substantially depopulated planet may not, in fact, be right around the corner and mankind’s fate is far from sealed.
Rather disconcertingly, however, the professor added:
We have no idea about what is the cause of the condition…
We cannot remedy it…
Knowledge of male fertility problems remains patchy on the whole; but this is not to say we have no clue as to what’s going on – far from it. Whilst some in the field may still be firing blanks, others feel that they have already reached satisfactory conclusions.
There exists a significant, growing body of robust research we may look to for signs of credible causes. In truth, one doesn’t have to be a reproductive health expert to fathom what may (at least partially) underlie the recent decline in male fertility.
Whatever select specialists may be willing to venture, on the record, about what they know, or how convincing they find the existing evidence, the picture that emerges from the literature is pretty clear. Contrary to the dismissive pronouncements of certain on-message establishment figures (who shan’t be named), in reality we are unlikely to have to wait another generation to be in a position to pinpoint some of the main culprits. Better still, the prime suspect is close at hand, and we have it in our grasp to do something about it.
As it happens, the elephant in the room is actually in your pocket…
That’s right guys, we’ve more than likely done this to ourselves. Irradiating intimate areas with radiofrequency (or ‘wireless’) transmission devices – like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops – has been repeatedly shown to be bad news for delicate reproductive cells and anatomy. Turns out microwaving the family jewels may be harmful. Who’d have known?
According to Dr. Joel Moskowitz of the University of California, Berkeley, “we have considerable evidence that cell phone radiation damages sperm and is associated with male infertility”. The Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at Berkley’s School of Public Health has further cautioned in recent months that it appears female fertility may also be adversely affected.
The link is consistent with the observation that Western men are the only major demographic group known to have experienced such a stark transformation. Of course, this could well be a function of other shifting cultural phenomena but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discount the possibility that early adoption of wireless consumer tech has played a role. Any which way you look at it, growing male infertility in the West is plausibly the very definition of a ‘modern disease’.
Besides recent replicated study findings linking radiofrequency radiation (RFR) exposure to impaired male fertility, scientists have known for decades that even relatively low power intensity microwaves can disturb finely tuned, sensitive biological systems in sometimes subtle and insidious ways.
This is not, however, to say that RFR represents the primary determinant of the emergent fertility crisis, or indeed that biomedical science is close to having the precise role of any lifestyle-linked risk factor all sewn up.
Clearly, there remains plenty of further investigative research to be done in this most sensitive of areas, and a number of other contemporary thematics must also be borne in mind. These include a role for: stress, diet, body weight, temperature of the testes, and both voluntary behavioural and involuntary environmental exposure to endocrine disruptors (e.g. pharmaceuticals, drugs, alcohol, and other chemical pollutants).
For many, the jury’s still out on the effects of RFR, but few by now can deny the rationale for a precautionary approach, in view of the emerging evidence. If we act now, both as individuals and as a society, then countless couples may be spared the ordeal of having to pursue invasive, by no means guaranteed, and increasingly restricted assisted reproductive treatments in the future.
All that’s required is that we’re willing to accept the mother of all inconvenient truths: that the gizmos and gadgets we’re all glued to may not just prove a barrier to truly living life in the present but also get in the way of life (rather less figuratively) going forward.
Julian A. Gordon Glassford is an integrative health researcher and consultant. Find out more about his work at In Full Sail.
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