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Read the Fine Print—pesticides, solvents, and cell-phone radiation—important male-mediated teratogens and endocrine disruptors

Apr 18, 2012


In advising women about important prenatal risk factors, clinicians have tended to focus on classical teratogens, such as alcohol, tobacco smoking, lead, solvents,  and ionizing radiation that work after conception to damage offspring.  But, these and other compounds and physical agents can also affect reproductive health by impairing the capacity of men to produce healthy children or adversely impacting the health of those that are conceived.   The term male-mediated teratogen has been used to characterize a number of environmental factors that affect the ability of men to become fathers as well as the health of the children they produce. Among the male-linked factors that have been demonstrated through experimental and epidemiological studies to result in damage to progeny are: cocaine, alcohol, some pesticides and solvents such as DBCP and trichloroethylene, and heavy metals such as lead and mercury.  Not surprisingly, these same agents also function as direct teratogens that work through classical routes of placental uptake to impair embryonic development.

Another growing environmental health hazard to male reproductive health has received little attention.  Microwave radiation from cellphones is both a classical teratogen and  male-mediated teratogen, and should therefore be deemed an endocrine disrupting agent that merits serious attention from public health policy makers and clinicians.   In addition, there is growing indication that cellphone radiation can also function as an epigenetic carcinogen, although it may also be a direct carcinogen.  Epigenetic carcinogens are those that increase cancer risk without damaging DNA, by affecting patterns of methylation, or repair, or through other non-structural impacts.

Most people and their clinicians are not aware that fine print warnings have been issued with smart phones advising that people not keep phones in their pockets and avoid exposure to the pregnant abdomen or those of teenagers.  A cellphone is a two-way microwave radio with intermittent and destabilizing pulses, unlike  microwave ovens that steadily operate at the same frequencies.  The weak and erratic microwave radiation from cellphones and tablets cannot directly break the bonds that hold molecules together, but does disrupt DNA,  weaken the brain’s protective barrier, and releases highly reactive and damaging free radicals.

The scientific grounds underlying these warnings are provided by a series of studies from scientists in Finland, Russia and Turkey, including the work of the highly respected Prof. Nesrin Seyhan, the NATO-supported founding chairman of the Biophysics Department at Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey, whose studies repeatedly show that prenatally exposed rats and rabbits have fewer brain cells — and those that survive sustain more damage to their  brain, liver, reproductive system and eye.  Her distinguished colleague, Sulleyman Kaplan, has also shown that prenatal exposure results in fewer brain pyramidal cells and more brain damage (dentate gyrus) to exposed offspring, in an important, but little recognized, series of papers.

Experimental work completed by teams working with two experts in male reproductive health, Prof. Ashok Agarwal of the Cleveland Clinic and by Sir Robert John Aitken of Australia’s Newcastle University, have shown that cellphone radiation exposed human sperm die three times faster, swim significantly more poorly, become more deformed and develop significantly more damage to sperm DNA.  This past fall,  Conrado Avendano and a team Argentinian scientists in Cordoba showed that semen from healthy men die twice as fast when placed under a laptop that is connected to wireless radiation.

With one in every five couples reportedly have serious problems reproducing,  the avoidance of direct exposure to the reproductive organs from cellphones, wireless-connected laptops and other closely held wireless devices should become standard medical advice.
Vulnerability to toxic insult varies with the rate of cell division and with the developmental state of the exposed tissues. This means that rapidly dividing cells, such as spermatocytes, neural stem cells and embryonic cells, will be especially susceptible. The faster that cells grow and the younger they are, the greater their propensity to make errors and the lesser their ability to repair that damage.   New experimental studies indicate that cellphone radiation should be considered an important and generally under-recognized factor—just like some solvents, pesticides, tobacco, and other confirmed reproductive risks– that can affect the capacity of couples to make healthy children when they chose to do so.



Experimental Evidence of Reproductive Toxicity  
Male Mediated Teratogen Endocrine Disruptor Epigenetic Carcinogen/Obesogen
DBCP1 Decreases sperm motility and spermatogenesis Yes, disrupts estrous cycle EC-Yes, and mutagenicObesogen – unknown
Bisphenol A (BPA) Unknown, however is a female mediated teratogen in combination with genistein 3 Yes, effects prostrate gland of fetuses, infants and children 2


EC – Yes, as classified by the IARC, has been shown to induce and promote several cancer types 4Obesogen – Possibly, some estrogenic properties and hormonal activities may cause it to act as one 4
Tin Compounds5 Modest however not detrimental effects, further research needed Yes, in both vertebrates and invertebrates EC- inadequate information to properly assess 9Obesogen – combined with factors such as the high fat Western Diet, yes
Cell Phone/ Laptop /Microwave Radiation Yes, decreases sperm motility and increases DNA Fragmentation 6 Yes, produces physiological responses similar to that of stress hormones 7 EC- LikelyClassified by IARC and WHO as possibly carcinogenic 8

Obesogen – unknown













Acknowledgement:  This paper was prepared with the assistance of Spencer Schecht and Jeremy Ramlagan

To be seen on Physican’s for Social Responsibility.