Binge Drinking And Semen Quality
A lot of people consider alcohol as a helping tool in “taking the edge off” or “getting into the mood”. However, experts believes that although alcohol may increase your likelihood of getting lucky in the bedroom, it may adversely affect your fertility and chances of impregnating your partner. Excessive alcohol consumption has deleterious effects on the quality of life and overall mental, physical and reproductive health.
Excessive drinking (or binge drinking) is clinically defined as, consumption of more than 5 units in one sitting (1). The prevalence of binge drinking varies in different parts of the world and depends on the socio-economic factors, alcohol tolerance, cultural practices and other environmental conditions. For example, prevalence of binge drinking in Denmark and most European countries is as high as 40 to 64% (1). Classically, one unit of alcohol contains 12g of ethanol and corresponds to one glass of wine/ beer or40 ml of spirit.
How Does Binge Drinking Affect Fertility?
According to a new study conducted by Danish investigators, high alcohol consumption adversely affects the quality of sperms. Based on the semen analysis, investigators concluded that men who consume more than 40 units of alcohol per week have 33% lower sperm count than males who drink less than 5 units per week. Study also suggested that the proportion of normal looking sperms (in terms of morphology and motility) also decreases 51% in alcoholics as compared to those who drink casually.
The pathophysiology revolves around several factors:
- Metabolism of alcohol produces reactive oxygen species that may directly affect the quality of semen by making the sperms more vulnerable to free radical mediated injury.
- Most alcohol consumers are also active/ chain smokers; which further aggravates the free radical and toxin mediated injury.
- Excessive alcohol consumption also adversely affects the biological and biochemical processes in the body. For example, various studies suggests that alcohol metabolism produces negative changes in the liver enzymes, which may directly translate into production and metabolism of sex hormones. Consequently, alcoholics are more likely to experience poor libido and sexual vigor in the bedroom. According to a new study, men who consume moderate quantities of alcohol have low serum levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Another study reported in Human Reproduction (2) suggested that males with high alcohol consumption (more than 20 units/week) have high serum levels of Free Testosterone (attributed mainly to low SHBG).
- Investigators also believes that alcohol has a cause-effect relationship with fertility. In other words, excessive alcohol alters fertility and males with compromised fertility are more likely to binge drink.
What Are Some Other Factors That May Affect Semen Quality In Addition To Binge Drinking?
Following risk factors are statistically proven to deteriorate the normal biochemical and physiological balance of the reproductive system and should be avoided (especially if you consume alcohol regularly):
- Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and pesticides.
- Poor/ unhealthy lifestyle choices such as sedentary lifestyle, obesity, high dependence on junk/ processed foods etc.
- History of drug abuse (or other chronic health conditions).
- High stress (such as certain occupations like military).
- Exposure to radiations.
Men who are planning to start the family or are concerned about their semen quality should speak to their healthcare professionals regarding optimal, safe dosage of alcohol. According to the UK Fertility Guidelines (2013), investigators believe that consumption of less than 3-4 units of alcohol/ day is very unlikely to affect semen quality and sperm viability. In other words, an adult otherwise healthy male with no other risk factor can consume up to 21 to 28 units of alcohol each week without experiencing any deleterious effects on the fertility and reproductive life.
It is important to maintain moderation in the consumption of alcohol. This is especially because, most investigators are skeptical if negative changes in semen reverses, once excessive alcohol consumption is stopped. It can be safely proposed that the effect on fertility as a result of binge drinking may be chronic or even permanent.
1. Jensen, T. K., Gottschau, M., Madsen, J. O. B., Andersson, A. M., Lassen, T. H., Skakkebæk, N. E., … & Jørgensen, N. (2014). Habitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish men. BMJ open, 4(9), e005462.
2. Jensen, T. K., Swan, S., Jørgensen, N., Toppari, J., Redmon, B., Punab, M., … & Irvine, D. S. (2014). Alcohol and male reproductive health: a cross-sectional study of 8344 healthy men from Europe and the USA. Human Reproduction, 29(8), 1801-1809.
3. Choices, N. H. S. (2014). Moderate regular drinking may’damage sperm’-Health News-NHS Choices.