Men who suspect they have a fertility problem may have already heard or read about the importance of a good diet and non-consumption of alcohol and drugs for a healthy sperm count and good sperm quality. However, a good many men and women trying to conceive may be unaware of the effect that alcohol can have on a man’s sperm.
The bad news for men is that the damaging effect of alcohol on sperm is a scientifically proven fact. The only controversy which remains is how much alcohol, if any, it’s ok to drink while trying to conceive. Watching what you drink is no longer a solely female concern when it comes to fertility. That is not to say that all men who drink alcohol will have fertility problems, however, some men who have reduced fertility can trace their fertility issues back to alcohol.
How Alcohol Damages Sperm
Alcohol can reduce the quantity of sperm a man produces (his sperm count) and the quality of that sperm. One way in which alcohol does this is by preventing the body from absorbing zinc in the normal way. Zinc is found in high quantities in sperm. It is a particularly important mineral in the formation of the sperm cell’s outer layer and tail. Zinc deficiency has been detected in men who have low sperm counts. Sperm cells need strong tails for good motility (the ability to move and swim and penetrate an egg). Alcohol consumption has therefore been linked to the production of abnormal sperm cells with deformed heads and tails. Abnormal sperm are less likely to be able to fertilize an egg and more likely to create a non-viable embryo, which may result in early pregnancy loss.
The effects of alcohol on male sexual performance are well known. This is particularly problematic if a couple is trying to get pregnant. Alcohol consumption may decrease sex drive and heavy alcohol use can even render a man impotent . Studies carried out on rats have found that alcohol consumption reduces testosterone levels in males. (Testosterone is a vital hormone for sperm production and sex drive).
So How Much Is Ok?
Medics disagree on how much alcohol a man can drink without it impacting on his sperm count and fertility. Many experts say that maintaining a moderate consumption of no more than one to two drinks per day is perfectly safe. Others claim that all alcohol consumption is likely to impact on male fertility to some degree and the only way to be 100 % sure is for a man to stop drinking completely approximately three months before a couple wants to conceive. This is because it takes at least three months for sperm cells to develop to maturity, ready for ejaculation.
Some studies on male fertility have provided evidence to support the zero tolerance to alcohol approach. For example, one study carried out on men with low sperm counts found that after cutting out alcohol, the sperm counts of 50 % of the study’s participants returned to normal within three months. The motility of their sperm cells also improved.
As of yet, there is still no concrete evidence that a father’s alcohol consumption prior to conception can be linked to birth defects in newborn babies. However, one study has suggested a possible link between paternal alcohol consumption prior to conception and a very rare heart defect in newborns. A good deal more research is required in this area before any reliable conclusions can be made.
It’s Up To You
If you are struggling to get your partner pregnant, the first thing both of you need to do is improve your diet and lifestyle. This may or may not, depending on what you want to take out of the available research, involve cutting out alcohol completely. If it’s important to you to have a baby, perhaps it’s worth giving it a try. Speak to your health care provider for professional advice.