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    Laptop computers – can they lower your sperm count?


    In 2008, an estimated 177 million laptop computers were sold worldwide.  The all-in-one features of laptops, combined with portability, enhanced productivity, and lower power consumption, make this device a very appealing option in today’s fast-paced environment. However, since laptop use has become so commonplace, more and more real ergonomic and health effects have been noticed.   Because of the flat and small keyboard, users are at risk for repetitive use strain injury. Also, the small integrated screen makes many users hunch over for a better view, contributing to neck or spinal injury. 

    But recent findings from a group of physicians in Stony Brook, NY, may be the most concerning. They found that the heat generated by laptops may possibly lead to adverse male reproductive effects. Laptop computers can reach internal temperatures of over 160°F, well above the normal body temperature of 98.6°F.  They rely on extremely compact cooling systems that can fail due to eventual clogging by dust and debris.  Because most men position their laptops on their knees, in close proximity to their scrotum, this area may be affected more severely. 

    The optimal temperature for sperm production by the testes is several degrees lower than the normal body temperature, which is why the testes are located in the scrotum, outside the abdominal cavity.  In order to balance the laptop on his knees, a man must sit with closely approximated thighs, trapping the scrotum and thereby increasing the temperature in the area.  In addition, the heat generated by the laptop dissipates into the scrotal area as well, further increasing the temperature. In the article published in Fertility and Sterility, a widely read and respected journal in the fertility field, researchers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook reported that men who balanced a laptop on their thighs could be putting their reproductive ability at risk.
    Specifically, they measured scrotal temperature in 3 positions – with a laptop on the closely approximated thighs, with a lap pad under the laptop on the closely approximated thighs, and sitting with legs wide apart while the laptop rested on a lap pad on their thighs. 

    They found that within 10-15 minutes, the scrotal temperature increased in all 3 positions, but the temperature rose more slowly when the legs were positioned wide apart.  They also found that using the lap pad did not have a significant protective effect.  The researchers concluded that sitting with legs wide apart and using the laptop computer for the shortest possible time can reduce the potentially hazardous elevation of scrotal temperature.  Although it is well known that lower body temperature is required for efficient sperm production, it is unclear how much effect the elevated temperature has on male fertility.  In some studies, sperm production was shown to decrease with even a 1°C elevation of the scrotal temperature.  This small rise of temperature can occur within 11 minutes of using a laptop on closely positioned thighs. Dr. Sheynkin, the lead author of the Fertility and Sterility article, warned that “until further studies provide more information on this type of thermal exposure, teenage boys and young men may consider limiting their use of laptop computers on their laps, as long-term use may have a detrimental effect on their reproductive health.”

    If proven to affect fertility, laptop computers may join the list of other lifestyle factors that may be affecting men’s reproductive health – drugs, environmental toxins, and diet.

    To take advantage of a laptop’s portability while avoiding untoward heath effects, consider placing the laptop on a table or on a standing snack tray in front of a comfortable armchair.  If you are trying to conceive and your male partner is using a laptop, try these positional modifications. But please see a fertility specialist in a timely manner, since other problems may be the cause of your reproductive difficulties.

     

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