Is alcohol harming your fertility?

The Connection between Alcohol and Infertility

While lan Fleming’s legendary books depict the world’s most famous spy, James Bond, as virtually indefatigable ¡n his pursuit of women, but in reality, Bond would almost certainly have been incapable of fathering a child. By all estimates, his consumption of an average of four drinks a day would have led to a total breakdown of sexual function and alcoholic cirrhosis well before he teamed up with Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort for all you Potter fans) in the recent blockbuster ‘Skyfall’. In fact, the ancient Sushruta Samhita written in the seventh century BC, vividly describes how alcohol destroys semen.

Every aspect of fertility in a man can potentially be impacted by chronic excessive alcohol intake. Such men usually have a depressed libido. Even if they do have the desire for sexual activity, they are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction. And even if they are able to get it up,’ often the ejaculation of semen does not happen. And finally, the semen, if at all deposited in the vagina, shows significant abnormalities in quality. Clearly, for the chronic alcoholic, fathering a child is challenging!

The basic mechanism by which alcohol impacts semen is by altering the hormonal pathways. In simple terms, the hypothalamus in the brain normally secretes a hormone GnRH (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone) that controls the pituitary gland that is the master endocrine gland in our brain. The pituitary gland in men releases two hormones critical for testicular function. These are follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Within the testis, FSH is responsible for stimulating the production of sperms from the seminiferous tubules while LH induces testosterone hormone production from the Leydig cells. This pathway is suppressed in chronic alcoholics causing testicular dysfunction, infertility and disturbances with erectile function. Neuropathy, which is common in alcoholics, can also contribute to men having erectile dysfunction. For men who smoke or take fattening foods as an accompaniment to their drink, the consequences could be even more severe.

Function Impact Of Alcohol Abuse
Libido Depressed
Erections Erectile dysfunction
Ejaculation Loss of ejaculation
Semen Poor quality sperms

While the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on all facets of male sexuality is clear, the impact of small amounts of alcohol in social instances on fertility is far less clear. By all accounts, the occasional social drink does not have any adverse impact on a man’s fertility or erectile function. So a weekend peg or glass of wine should be fine.

Almost all attention with relation to drinking and fertility so far has been focused on men. However, there is evidence available to suggest that women who drink are less likely to have a success with infertility treatments. Alcohol has an adverse impact on the embryo and the quality of embryos obtained for in vitro fertilization might not be satisfactory.

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