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Drinking Impacts Your Chances of Conceiving: Fertility + Alcohol

Most people know that drinking too much isn't good for you—it only takes a night or two of over-imbibing to clue even the most unassuming drinker into potential problems. But today, as our drinking patterns have increased, so have symptoms of hormonal imbalance and fertility issues. Are the two related? How does drinking affect fertility and reproductive health? Recent studies have shown that alcohol intake can affect hormone levels in both men and women, affecting female fertility as well as male reproductive health.

So, how much is too much, and what's considered a 'safe' alcohol intake for reproductive hormone health? Let's find out if there's really a way to balance drinking alcohol with a healthy lifestyle, how alcohol consumption affects fertility, what tools from integrative medicine can help optimize reproductive health for men and women.

Does alcohol lower sperm quality? And other fertility facts

Alcohol intake has a somewhat nuanced relationship with fertility. While drinking is a common way to relax and unwind at the end of the day, even moderate drinkers may experience some level of trouble with reproductive hormones, menstrual cycle irregularities, or reduced semen quality.

One study involving alcohol consumption in 1221 men found that just 5 drinks per day was enough to reduce sperm count or quality (1).

Alcohol can also reduce the chances of conceiving for women. Just 6 drinks per week may be enough to shift the odds of getting pregnant.

Socially, drinking is common all around the world, but it doesn’t come without health risks.

Related: The Integrative Medicine Guide to Infertility

Even one drink raises estrogen

Drinking alcohol causes a rise in the hormone estrogen. Over time, this increases the risk for estrogen-sensitive cancers such as breast and endometrial cancer. Environmental estrogen mimickers are also rampant in a post-industrialized society, making the odds of estrogen excess much more likely for modern men and women.

When your body metabolizes alcohol in the liver, it affects the form of an important coenzyme, NAD+, to its reduced form, NADH. When the reduced form accumulates, the liver takes a temporary pause breaking down estradiol to estrone, a more favorable and less potent form of estrogen (2).

Estradiol is a very potent estrogen, the excess of which is linked to increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers. The evidence is clear here: if you have estrogen excess symptoms, more than one drink may spell trouble for your hormones.

Shop support for healthy estrogen metabolism.

Alcohol lowers testosterone

Heavy drinking is associated with lower testosterone levels in men. This has a negative effect on sperm health and male fertility, predictably.

While low to moderate drinking is actually associated with a temporary increase in serum testosterone levels (which may account for feelings of aggression in some people), regular or heavy drinking lowers testosterone in the long-term.

High amounts of alcohol is also associated with liver dysfunction, which results in the inability to metabolize estrogens, contributing to overall hormonal disturbances and reduced testosterone (3).

Moderate to low drinking likely doesn't pose a threat for most men 

A cross-sectional study of more than 8,000 men from the U.S. and Europe found no difference in semen parameters (quality, motility, function), and actually documented an increase in serum testosterone levels with increasing amounts of alcohol consumption (4). 

That's not to say that daily alcohol intake is the best choice for men. Western men today have significantly lower levels of testosterone when compared to the levels of their age-matched counterparts from the 1980s, and lifestyle factors such as alcohol intake likely play a role.

Read more: 6 Evidence-Based Methods to Increase Testosterone Naturally

For women, when you drink matters

Does alcohol affect fertility in women? The answer is yes, but evidence suggests that how your body responds to alcohol consumption varies depending on your menstrual cycle phases. In short, it appears better to drink before ovulation, and not after.

This study found that drinking 3-6 drinks per week (considered moderate alcohol intake) during the luteal phase, reduced chances of conception compared to non-drinkers (5). The luteal phase is the second half of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation.

They also found that during the follicular phase, heavy drinking in particular was associated with reduced chances of conceiving.

The researchers noted though, that when they considered the menstrual cycle in its entirety, they observed a significant association between alcohol intake and reduced likelihood of conceiving. In fact, for each additional day of binge drinking (more than 4 alcoholic drinks in a day) participants had a further 19% decrease in the chance of conceiving.

Related: Top 10 Signs of Fertility

Want to learn more?

We’re drinking more and more in one sitting

Today, young people are drinking more at one time, leading to issues previously only seen with years of habitual alcohol consumption, such as NAFLD and cirrhosis of the liver.

Does drinking alcohol have anything to do with falling fertility and poor liver health?

One of the biggest problems here is that most people likely don’t realize just how few drinks are considered “moderate” or “heavy” drinking. As a result, we’re having more and more drinks in one sitting, which only exaggerates the negative effects of alcohol intake.

For reference, here’s how to look at alcohol intake:

Moderate alcohol consumption – 1 drink per day for women, up to 2 drinks per day for men

Binge drinking – 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in 2 or fewer hours

Heavy alcohol use – Binge drinking 5 or more days in the last month

If you drink alcohol, it seems the most important thing to do is keep track of how many drinks you’ve had, and be aware of how this—and other lifestyle factors—can affect fertility. And if you’re trying to conceive, avoiding alcohol entirely is good practice.

Read the Root Causes of Infertility + Holistic Solutions

Other issues associated with too much alcohol

Heavy drinking can negatively impact sperm quality, testosterone production, and menstrual cycle health, but there are also some other considerations worth mentioning if you’re concerned about alcohol intake.

Drinking ramps up production of inflammatory signals. Drinking too much contributes to higher levels of systemic inflammation. Research has shown that people who regularly consume higher amounts of alcohol have higher levels of the inflammatory C-reactive protein (6).

Heavy drinking contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (7). With prevalence doubling in recent decades, our drinking habits, increased body weight, and other lifestyle factors play a significant role.

Reduces gut function + nutrient absorption. Alcohol can damage your gut lining, and can also make it harder to absorb and produce essential nutrients, including magnesium, B12, and zinc.

Reduces brain size. According to a recent study, as little as one alcoholic drink a day, including a single glass of wine, can shrink the brain, causing it to appear 2 years older than the brains of participants that didn’t consume any alcohol (8). 

Related: 10 Simple Actions for Better Health

How to balance alcohol with a healthy lifestyle

Despite the significant negative effects from heavy drinking, let’s put things in perspective. Most large studies conclude that the occasional drink, or social drinking, doesn’t come with any additional health risk for most healthy men and women. The issue is usually that there’s a wide spectrum of interpretation for “moderate” intake. So here’s what to remember:

  • Binge drinking is considered more than 4 drinks in a day, or more than 8 in a week.
  • Some people can tolerate more alcohol than others. Many people may do much better with little to no alcohol at all.
  • Listen to your integrative doctor and work with them to keep an eye on your hormone levels if you’re trying to conceive.

Then, if you’re looking for ways to cut down—or stop drinking alcohol altogether—follow these tips to drink responsibly.

Use non-alcoholic cocktails to moderate your alcohol intake

Explore non-alcoholic wines or cocktails to eliminate alcohol entirely (if only temporarily) The market has exploded lately with tasty, fun non-alcoholic beverages that can still make you feel like you’re part of the party while you enjoy an elegant beverage.

If you’re trying to conceive, it’s a good practice to abstain from alcohol completely, to rule out factors that may negatively affect fertility.

Don’t keep alcohol in the house

The practice of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ may be a great help if you find yourself particularly vulnerable to ease of access. Often, if you want to cut down your alcohol consumption, removing convenience is the first step.

Get exercise.

In the last few years, many turn to alcohol to ease anxiety or as a way to unwind from a stressful day. If this is becoming habitual, try another activity that will make you feel better. Exercise helps burn off the stress hormone, cortisol, and can help clear your mind. Physical activity, particularly outside, can be very helpful in reducing anxiety.

Make a plan for cravings.

Having a list of reasons why you want to cut back, activities in place (like going for a walk or journaling), or a friend to call can distract your mind from a craving. Remind yourself that the urge will pass.

Fertility and trying to conceive with integrative medicine

Alcohol intake can be a major contributor to fertility problems in both men and women. However, there are ways to drink responsibly and optimize your lifestyle for better fertility health. By being aware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption and making small changes to your drinking habits, you may improve your chances of conceiving. If you have any questions about how alcohol intake can affect your fertility or would like more information on optimizing your lifestyle for conception, please contact us. We’re here to help!

Resources

  1. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005462
  2. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/35/5/417/206575
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504800/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24893607/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34102671/ 
  6. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/45/2/119/135134
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7063528/
  8. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28735-5

Tags

alcohol, Fertility, Health and Wellness, health tips, holistic physician, infertility


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