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Heat and testicular infertility

The Testicles Top Song: “It’s Too Darn Hot

 By Dr. Gifford Jones

There’s a story that should have made headlines around the world, but somehow it collected dust. In 2002, the British Journal, Lancet, reported that a scientist had suffered burns to his penis and scrotum while using a laptop computer. You might quickly conclude that he was naked and had fallen asleep with his laptop on his lap, but that was not the case. Rather, he was working with his trousers and underpants on. For want of a better word he had simply been “lap-scorched”.

The report doesn’t mention how long it required for his burned parts to heal. But being lap-scorched is one thing. Now, another report says it’s also possible to be “fertility-scorched” by prolonged exposure to laptop computers.

Dr. Yefim Sheynkin, Associate Professor of Urology at State University of New York, says a medical student pointed out to him that laptop computers generate a fair amount of heat and wondered if this would have any effect on fertility. So Sheynkin decided to conduct studies to determine if there was any validity to the student’s concern. This seemed a practical study since 60 million Americans use laptop computers daily at home and on the road.

Sheynkin must have great persuasive powers. He convinced 29 healthy males, aged 21 to 35, to have their testicular temperatures measured with and without using a laptop for one hour. It must have made a few men squirm.

Sheynkin attached electronic sensors to the right and left testicles (ouch!). These showed that scrotal temperature increased by more than 2.1 degrees Celsius when both thighs were kept together, and increased to 2.5 degrees Celsius when the computer sat on only one thigh. And it took only 15 minutes for scrotal temperature to begin to rise!

Several previous studies have shown the adverse effect of heat on male fertility. For instance, a report in the European Journal of Human Reproduction says that an increase of one degree Celsius can decrease sperm production by as much as 40 percent.

Dr. Sheynkin’s student was right that laptops are hot items. Subsequent studies have shown that computers can achieve an internal operating temperature of 70 degrees Celsius. This in turn caused the surface temperature of the laptop to increase from 31 degrees Celsius (87 degrees Fahrenheit) to nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) after one hour of use when both thighs were used to keep the computers centrally balanced. No wonder then that the testicles’ top song must be Cole Porter’s hit, “It’s too darn hot”.

Dr. Sheynkin concludes that increasing popularity of laptops may be a risk factor for infertility. But he stresses occasional use is not a problem. It’s the repetitive use of a laptop a couple of times a day for many years that could affect a whole new generation of men.

Other researchers also see the potential for trouble. Dr. Marc Goldstein, a fertility expert at Cornell University Medical College in New York City, says ” It makes perfect sense, but no one had thought about the fertility effect of a hot computer on your lap. It’s going to be a very hot topic.”

These findings should not come as a complete shock. A general association between increased testicular temperature and lowered fertility has been known for many years. For instance, in the past, would-be-dads have been advised to avoid hot baths, saunas and tight fitting pants.

I happened to be writing this column while driving to the cottage with my wife. I also had the laptop perched on my thighs in the car. Although I’d never noticed it before I began to feel a trifle warm. I told my wife what I was writing about. She laughed. And told me to keep right on writing!

But suppose I had been 25 years of age, driving along with a young bride and we both wanted to start a family. In all probability I’d feel a lot warmer. Convinced I was being lap-scorched, I’d say nothing to my wife, close the laptop and just enjoy the scenery.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones



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