Alcohol and Fertility
It's hard to reconcile a drunken all-nighter and subsequent pregnancy with the knowledge that alcohol consumption interferes with fertility. However, whether you understand it or not, the fact of the matter is that alcohol does affect fertility - in both men and women. One of the very sad results of alcohol abuse during pregnancy can be seen in children with fetal alcohol syndrome born to mothers who drank throughout their pregnancies.
Many men and women think that a few drinks won't hurt - and, if they can keep it to "just a little bit," it probably wouldn't be so bad. However, the reality is that most people can't manage to keep consumption down and end up drinking far more than they think they do. The end result is damage that may not be reversible.
Alcohol Interferes with Male Fertility
Alcohol can make conception problematic. It impairs sexual function, especially for men, and interferes with ovulation and menstruation for women. It can reduce fertility by half, and the more one drinks, the more problems there are with conception. One study showed that women who drank less than five glasses of wine per week were twice as likely to become pregnant within six months as those who drank more.
Sperm count is noticeably lower in men who drink and long-term alcohol consumption leads to permanent fertility damage in men.
· Abnormal sperm and low motility (movement) are common effects of alcohol on sperm.
· Absorption of important minerals, like zinc, is inhibited with alcohol consumption and hormone levels are seriously affected.
· Abnormal liver function usually accompanies heavy drinking in either sex, but with men it causes a rise in estrogen, which affects sperm production as well as male hormone levels.
· The sperm generating cells of the testis are killed off by the toxins created in the body by alcohol.
· Alcohol reduces libido and can cause impotence.
Female Fertility Adversely Affected by Alcohol
The chances of conception for women are dramatically affected by alcohol. Alcohol abuse is associated with a variety of issues that contribute to infertility. Hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian dysfunction that is consistent with drinking results in:
· amenorrhea, or the absence of menstruation
· anovulation, or the lack of ovulation
· luteal phase defect, resulting in the abnormal development of the uterine lining
· hyperprolactinemia, high levels of the hormone prolactin that can lead to infertility
Dr. Anthony Rutherford, a consultant in reproductive medicine and Chairman of the British Fertility Society says, "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."
Alcohol Seriously Affects Unborn Babies
Women provide the environment for a baby to grow and develop, so it follows that alcohol consumption will have a profound effect upon that environment. Heavy alcohol consumption puts the baby at extreme risk for a number of serious problems, including miscarriage. Prenatal alcohol exposure is the cause of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS is characterized by the following symptoms:
· low birth weight
· growth deficiency
· mental retardation
· behavioral disturbances
· atypical heart-shaped facial appearance
· congenital heart defects
· brain anomalies
Drinking while pregnant is the leading cause of mental retardation in babies.
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 or two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk."
This advice is aimed at women who become pregnant and is designed to protect the fetus. Drinking more than the recommended two to three units of alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy has been proven to affect the baby's development.
Stop Drinking Alcohol to Preserve Fertility
Considering all the negative factors that surround drinking alcohol while trying to conceive, or when pregnant, the best course of action for both prospective parents could well be to stop drinking entirely.
There are many factors that affect conception and set the stage for infertility. Alcohol affects men and women alike and will make conception difficult, and in some cases, impossible without help. A healthy lifestyle is important to fertility and pregnancy.