Alcohol & Infertility

Though it can be hard not to partake in libations during the holiday season, moderation may be helpful.

Gabriela Rosa
November 13th, 2008

The link between alcohol and fertility has long been debated, however the expert consensus is that there is no safe level of consumption for a teratogenic substance (i.e. one that causes mutations and abnormalities) when a couple desires a healthy conception — and this is even of greater importance for couples challenged by fertility problems or those requiring the assistance of reproductive technologies such as IVF and ICSI.

The connection between alcohol consumption and impaired reproductive function has been accepted for a few years now. However, studies are now revealing a similar pattern with low to moderate alcohol consumption as well, with one study suggesting that even one glass of alcohol can decrease fertility by 50%! Additional research shows the probability of conception in women and fertility in men also decreases proportionately as alcohol consumption increases. So how exactly does alcohol affect fertility?

The menstrual cycle in women is a result of a series of well-coordinated events — organs produce hormones, which then stimulate the ovaries to produce and release eggs and also prepare the uterus for pregnancy. Now, what alcohol does is — it directly interferes with this sequence that regulates ovulation and menses. As a result, it causes conditions such as amenorrhea (absence of menses), anovulation (lack of ovulation), luteal phase dysfunction and (abnormal development of the endometrial lining). Not only does alcohol increase the risk of infertility, it also causes spontaneous abortion, and impaired fetal growth and development.

While there are many differences between men and women, there are many basic similarities in physiological processes that ensure good reproductive health. So, drinking definitely affects male fertility as well. Alcohol consumption affects hormone production in men just like in women, and may also cause impotence. Alcohol is toxic to the delicate sperm producing cells, which may be destroyed completely over time. Alcoholism is also associated with increased estrogen levels in men. This automatically decreases sperm production and may even contribute to prostate cancer in older males.

In addition to directly affecting hormone production, alcohol also limits the body’s capacity to absorb and process nutrients such as antioxidants, zinc and selenium — all essential for reproductive function. The body requires these important nutrients for sperm production, estrogen and progesterone balance and synthesis of genetic material. As a result it becomes quite apparent how impaired nutrient levels resulting from alcohol consumption during the preconception preparation period (120 days prior to a conception attempt) and during pregnancy and lactation may initially lead to fertility problems and eventually to poor health outcomes for you and your baby.

The news is not all bad, though – the upside is that the harmful effects of alcohol can be reversed just by abstaining from alcohol — ideally for the 120 days it takes to form healthy sperm and mature a healthy egg as well as throughout conception attempts, pregnancy and lactation. This is the surest way to optimize your natural fertility for a lively, natural conception and/or dramatically increase your odds of a healthy pregnancy through IVF (if necessary).

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