Alcohol may grease the wheels in the short-term and make trying to get pregnant a little more fun, but in the it long run it could throw a wrench in fertility. Roughly 10 percent of men and women in the U.S. report having difficulty getting pregnant. Worldwide, close to 49 million couples were considered to be infertile. Age, weight, smoking status, caffeine intake and fitness level can affect fertility. Moderate-to-heavy drinking can also lead to fertility problems in some people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two for men. Heavy drinking is considered eight drinks or more per week for women and 15 for men. Drinking heavily may disrupt the endocrine system, which controls the hormones essential for healthy reproduction. This disruption may lead to decreased fertility in both women and men.
Long-term drinking may increase the amount of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) circulating in the bloodstream in women. FSH naturally rises and falls throughout the menstrual cycle and is needed to maintain regular periods and ovarian function. Drinking may also reduce the number of follicles in the ovaries. Ovarian follicles contain the eggs that are released during ovulation. Fewer eggs being released and having irregular periods reduce the chances of getting pregnant each month.
Long-term alcohol use doesn’t just compromise fertility in women. Sperm health may also be affected. Alcohol may lower testosterone and progesterone—hormones that control sperm production and function—in men. Low levels of these hormones may lead to a lower sperm count and less mobile sperm.
Fortunately, not everyone who drinks will have trouble conceiving. Some studies have shown no association between alcohol and infertility, and research even suggests that a bit of wine may shorten the time it takes to get pregnant. So, if you’re trying to get pregnant, limiting yourself to an occasional glass or two of wine may be a good addition to your fertility checklist.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Visit the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence to learn more about boosting public awareness of alcohol-related problems.
Casey A. Gilman, MS, is a PhD candidate in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology graduate program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She was the 2016 American Physiological Society-sponsored AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Gilman’s research focuses on the postcopulatory sexual selection in lizards. She is also a freelance writer.