There are many factors that can impair a couple’s ability to conceive—including alcohol. Although alcohol is consumed by many people, it can have a negative impact on both male and female fertility.
How does alcohol influence a couples’ ability to conceive?
Regular alcohol consumption can lead to hormone imbalances. For example, in women alcohol consumption can lead to delayed egg maturation and disruptions in the menstrual cycle. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the liver, preventing the proper breakdown of the female sex hormone estrogen. This results in an excess of estrogen and a deficiency of testosterone. In men, alcohol can decrease sperm quality, leading to a lower sperm count in the semen and a higher number of malformed sperm. Erectile function can also be affected. In addition, alcohol is a known libido killer.
Studies show a connection between alcohol consumption and diminished fertility
In order to test the effects of alcohol on male fertility, Danish researchers recruited 1,221 men aged 18 to 28 and conducted surveys with them during the period between 2008 and 2012. To examine the sperm quality in terms of motility, count and volume, the study participants were required to give semen samples. They were also asked about their drinking behavior (per week, per month and general habits, including frequency of possible intoxication). The quantity of alcohol was specified in units. For example, a glass of wine or beer corresponded to one unit. The result: Men who had consumed more than five units of alcohol in the previous week had the worst sperm quality. Approximately half of those surveyed also stated that this amount was consistent with their regular weekly alcohol consumption. However, any actual intoxication that took place in the previous month did not have an effect on sperm quality. Extreme changes were not detected below a consumption of 25 units per week. In those participants who drank 40 units per week, sperm count was reduced by one-third compared to those who had consumed only five units, with about half of the remaining sperm exhibiting abnormalities. A notable weakness of the study was that it was unable to accurately determine whether alcohol consumption alone was responsible for the decrease in sperm quality or whether these men were engaging in other behaviors that could negatively affect their fertility. Nevertheless, the researchers urge men—especially those who are planning a family—to pay close attention to their alcohol consumption.
In another Danish study, the influence of alcohol on female fertility was examined. 430 couples aged 20 to 35 were tested over a period of three years. The results showed that women who consumed five or fewer alcoholic drinks per week exhibited reduced fertility. After six menstrual cycles, 64 percent of women who had consumed five or fewer alcoholic beverages became pregnant. In comparison, 55 percent of women who consumed more per week were able to conceive during the same time period. This shows that women who consume more than five alcoholic drinks per week take longer to become pregnant. In addition, further studies demonstrated that women who regularly consume alcohol more frequently suffer from amenorrhea (an absence of menstruation), painful menstrual cramps and irregular menstrual cycles.
What does this mean for couples who want to conceive?
Since even moderate alcohol consumption can affect fertility, men and women who are planning a pregnancy should employ moderation or, ideally, refrain entirely. Since sperm takes at least three months to mature, couples should abstain from alcohol several months before they plan to try to conceive. After three to four months of abstinence, a semen sample can be taken to ensure that the sperm quality is satisfactory.