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HK Magazine Archive

Can Hong Kong Men Keep Their Sperm Healthy?

A new study shows that men who kept their phones in their pocket during the day have a significantly lower sperm count.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:58pm

A new study from Israel’s Technion University in Haifa shows that men who kept their phones in their pocket during the day have a significantly lower sperm count.

Scientists there say that nearly half of the men in the study were affected, and that those who talked on a mobile phone for more than an hour every day saw their semen concentration reduced by almost half.

Is this the case for gadget-hungry Hong Kong, where most people rarely take a respite from using their mobile phones? It’s not time to panic, yet, says Ernest Ng Hung-yu, a clinical professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“The research has some critical problems,” says Ng. He says that the research was only done on those with sterility problems and that the sample size was too small—106 patients participated and only 80 were included in the final analysis.  

“Also, part of the research relies on patients’ answers regarding their health through questionnaires, which lowered the credibility as the patients can’t say for sure if they have the questioned health problems, such as varicocele and orchitis,” says Ng, who works in the university’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “While the research result may seem very eye-catching, the research was conducted poorly and the conclusion was biased.”

When it comes to healthy sperm, Ng says that sperm volume, count and motility all drop with age. But there are ways for men to keep their sperm healthy.

Smoking is one of the most obvious factors affecting sperm quality. An individual’s occupation can also affect his sperm count—for example, people who work in high temperatures, like chefs, and lorry drivers who sit in one place with no ventilation, can have less healthy semen. Weight is a more controversial factor; losing weight could bring benefits to sperm quality, but that relationship still needs to be thoroughly researched, says Ng.

Chan Hsiao-chang from the School of Biomedical Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says that the environment can also affect sperm quality.

“The current thinking on the cause of male infertility worldwide would be environmental factors, such as heavy metals, or toxic substances like BPA—a chemical from plastic containers or cosmetic products with steroid-like chemicals,” says Chan.

And, in Hong Kong, where uncompensated overtime ran a tab of $10 billion last year, it should be no surprise that stress is an issue. Chan says that “stress... may have implications on sperm count in Hong Kong given the long hours people put into work here.”