Alcohol and Fertility

Our modern society is centered on networking and business meetings, social gatherings and relaxing when possible.  The cornerstone to most of these events is alcohol and both men and women usually partake quite freely of the offerings.  However, if pregnancy is on the list of things a couple wants to achieve, then the alcohol aspect of their gatherings should be reviewed.

Impact of Alcohol on Male and Female Fertility

Alcohol has a direct impact upon male and female fertility and, should pregnancy occur, it can severely affect the unborn baby.  As a matter of fact, studies have proven that drinking any alcohol at all can reduce your fertility by half – and the more you drink the less likely you are to conceive.  One study found that women who drank less than five units of alcohol a week were twice as likely to get pregnant within a six month period as those women who drank more.

By now most of us know and acknowledge the negative effects of alcohol on the human body.  While it does “loosen” a person up and helps with relaxation, it can also be very destructive.  It causes liver problems that affect the ability of the body to produce amino acids, necessary for cell development.  Drinking alcohol that is naturally brewed in order to reduce some of the chemical poisoning is a suggestion if your work demands that you spend some time schmoozing.  The recommended level of alcohol consumption is no more than six units per week for a male and a maximum of five units per week for a female and two or three per week if she’s pregnant.  However, the best plan is to stop drinking all together if you’re trying to conceive or if you are already pregnant.

Negative Effect of Alcohol on Male Fertility

During each menstrual cycle there is a point of probable conception – it’s called fecundability.  Poor or decreased fecundability means that there is a lower than expected chance that a couple will become pregnant within a specific period of time.  Alcohol decreases fecundability through the effect it has on sperm quality and quantity.  A semen analysis will determine whether a man’s sperm is appropriately healthy for conception.  Normal sperm morphology (shape and size) should be more than 50% and his sperm count should exceed 20million/ml.  If a man continues to drink on a regular basis, sperm quality and count – both necessary for fertility - will decrease appreciably.

Additionally, the size of a man’s testicles is also affected by alcohol.  This has an effect upon the sperm as well.  Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and can cause disruption in the autonomic system of the central nervous system.  It is the autonomic system that is in control of the mechanism of erection and ejaculation.  If there is a malfunction in the autonomic system and the mechanism is affected, the ability to have intercourse appropriately is also affected.  The impact on fecundability is negative.  The good news for men is that abstaining from alcohol can reverse these conditions as well as improve sperm health.

Dr. Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says:  “Excessive alcohol lowers testosterone levels and sperm quality and quantity in men.  It can also reduce libido, and cause impotence.  If a man drinks heavily it can really reduce a couple’s chances of conceiving.  However, if you reduce what you drink, these effects can be quickly reversed.”

“I would recommend that men definitely stay within the government’s daily unit guidelines if they’re trying for children with their partners,” he added.


Effects of Alcohol on Female Fertility, Pregnancy and Unborn Baby

The way alcohol affects fecundability in women is through the disruption of menses.  Alcohol alters the natural hormonal balance in the reproductive system that results in irregular periods, and can cause anovulation (the absence of ovulation).  This has a profound effect upon fecundability and fertility for a woman. 

Not only does alcohol affect the reproductive system and hinder fertility, it also increases the risk for spontaneous abortion and can extend to fetal alcohol syndrome in the unborn baby.  According to Dr. Anthony Rutherford, a consultant in reproductive medicine and Chairman of the British Fertility Society, “There is a link between drinking and fertility, although exactly how alcohol makes women less fertile isn’t understood clearly.  Many studies have shown that even drinking lightly can have an effect.”

The Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales recommends that “as a general rule, pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol.  If they do choose to drink, to protect the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.”

Reduce the Effect of Alcohol on Fertility by Healthy Living

The real key to ensuring fertility for both men and women is to live a healthy lifestyle.  Certainly, we all have vices.  However, when it comes to procreation, we have to be willing to let some habits go.

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