How alcohol affects fertility in both men and women
You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Drink to your health,” but when it comes to safeguarding your fertility, moderation is definitely key in alcohol consumption. Women usually swear off alcohol once they find out they’re with child, but in truth, it is best for them to abstain from alcohol as soon as they’re ready to start a family. And it’s not just women who should keep tabs on their alcohol intake!
A growing number of scientific studies have shown that as little as one alcoholic drink a day can lead to detrimental effects in one’s chances at conceiving. For example, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2004, alcohol can shorten a woman’s follicular phase and menstrual cycle.
Meanwhile, a 2009 study conducted at Harvard University found that in couples undergoing IVF, women who drank more than six units of alcohol per week were 18% less likely to conceive, while men were 14% less likely. This finding was supported by a study published in 2011 in the Annals of Epidemiology. Entitled ‘Alcohol, Smoking, and Caffeine in Relation to Fecundability, with Effect Modification by NAT2,‘ it concluded that alcohol intake was significantly associated with reduced fertility.
The study, which followed 319 women over an average of 8 menstrual cycles and 124 pregnancies, discovered that women who drink alcohol once a day can experience a 30% reduction in fertility, while those who took more than one alcoholic drink a day experienced a 50% reduction.
Another study published in 2011, entitled ‘Effect of alcohol consumption on in vitro fertilization,’ published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that drinking before becoming pregnant can lower live birth rates by up to 21% in IVF patients.
This prospective cohort study involved multicycle analyses with final models adjusted for potential confounders that included cycle number, cigarette use, body mass index, and age. From the 2,545 couples studied, it was found that women who drink at least four drinks per week had 16% less odds of a live birth rate compared with those who consumed less alcohol.
Although there is a link between drinking and fertility, researchers still do not know exactly how alcohol impairs fertility, says Dr Anthony Rutherford, a consultant in reproductive medicine and Chairman of the British Fertility Society.
However, it is clear to researchers that alcohol doesn’t just affect female fertility. According to Dr Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, “Excessive alcohol lowers testosterone levels and sperm quality and quantity in men. It can also reduce libido, and cause impotence.”
Fortunately, however, any damaging effects alcohol has on fertility can be quickly reversed by reducing alcohol intake or abstaining from it, as well as getting proper nutrition and leading a healthier lifestyle. Therefore, before you raise your glass next time, spare some thought over how it can stand in the way of your goals of starting a family.
How paternal age affects reproduction and offspring
When it comes to discussions on fertilisation and reproduction, there is often an emphasis on the mother. This includes her age, which is also known as “maternal age.” This is quite understandable, because multiple studies have been conducted on women’s health and the effects it can have on the pregnancy and baby. And the bulk of the research shows that women over 35 do have a higher risk of infertility, pregnancy complications, spontaneous abortion, congenital anomalies and perinatal complications.
But what about paternal age? How come it’s rarely discussed? Could the age of the father have an effect on reproduction and the health of the baby both in vitro and after birth? The answer is – Yes, it’s possible.
Today, however, late fatherhood has become more commonplace. In fact, in Hollywood it has become a trend, with celebs like Steve Martin, George Lucas, Jeff Goldblum and Robert DeNiro fathering children in their 60s. And it’s not just celebs that are having children later in life.
In the last decade, we’ve seen a rising number of men becoming fathers for the first time at an advanced age. This is largely due to the increase in life expectancy, the use of contraceptives, delayed marriages and so on. Arguably, there are various social advantages to having children at a later age. For example, older fathers are often more advanced in their careers and are better equipped to provide financial security to the family. But what about potential risks? Do they outweigh the advantages?
Despite this rising trend of delayed fatherhood, research on the effects of paternal age on reproduction and offspring has been lacking. However, there is a growing body of literature on the topic, and they point to several risk factors that couples must be aware of and take into consideration.
Firstly, studies have shown the negative effects of paternal age to sperm quality and testicular function. In addition to this, older men have an increased risk of male infertility, which can adversely impact reproductive and fertility outcomes, including the success rates of treatments like IVF/ICSI.
Research also indicates that children conceived by men over the age 40 might face a higher risk of miscarriage; preterm birth; birth defects such as the bone growth disorder achondroplasia; disorders like autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, as well as childhood leukemia.
But why do the risks for these health conditions increase with paternal age?
Researchers believe that these health conditions might be caused by age-related genetic mutations and chromosomal abnormalities, which in turn results in genetic mutations that are then inherited by the offspring. With these facts in mind, it’s essential for couples, especially those facing fertility issues, to consider the links between advanced paternal age and the potential risks to conception and the health of their offspring.
But, if you’re a man in your 40s or older who is considering fatherhood, or are concerned about your reproductive health, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor. It’s best to address your worries and find out more about the potential risks involved.
Fight Oxidative Stress
The effects of alcohol, smoking and pollutants on women’s fertility
We all know that the excessive intake of alcohol, smoking and environmental pollutants are bad for our health, but can they negatively impact a woman’s chances of getting pregnant? The answer is a resounding (and unsurprising) yes! Here’s why – Firstly, as toxicants, they cause our bodies to produce Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS, which are highly-reactive ions and molecules that contain oxygen. ROS are a lot like free radicals, and they are both known to wreak havoc in our bodies by damaging proteins and impairing their function.
Usually, our bodies are able to neutralise the harmful effects of ROS and free radicals with antioxidants. However, when an imbalance in the production of ROS and free radicals occurs, our bodies are unable to cope. As a result, our bodies undergo what’s called – oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a physiological condition that’s linked to a variety of health issues, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease; cancer; heart problems; blood vessel, gut and vision disorders; lung conditions; chronic fatigue syndrome; kidney, autoimmune, arthritis and inflammatory disease; diabetes; pancreatitis and more.
There is also mounting evidence on the negative effects of oxidative stress on male subfertility, including decreased sperm motility and numbers. And now, findings indicate that oxidative stress can increase the risk for female infertility, as well as delaying pregnancies and lowering pregnancy rates. It can even lead to pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and even miscarriage.
While the field is currently understudied and there is so much more to discover, there is no denying that it is crucial for us to gain a better understanding of how to combat oxidative stress. “If we can identify factors that can be modified to decrease oxidative stress in women, it may be an inexpensive and non-invasive treatment for infertility,” states a study called The Impact of oxidative stress on female fertility by Elizabeth H. Ruder, Terryl J. Hartman, and Marlene B. Goldmanc.
But does this mean we have to play the waiting game for more research to be conducted on the subject? While it may be a few years time before scientists can identify the factors that can be modified to fight oxidative stress, there are steps you can take right now.
We know that oxidation occurs when we’re exposed to toxins, chemicals and stress. Therefore, it would be highly beneficial for you to minimise your exposure to triggers that are present in your lifestyle, foods and environment. Numerous studies have also shown the benefits of a healthy and varied diet, which is supplemented with multivitamins and antioxidants.
In addition, you can maintain your reproductive health by limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, quitting cigarettes, getting adequate exercise, learning ways to manage daily stress and maintaining a healthy body weight. By taking these steps and making crucial lifestyle changes, you can significantly enhance your fertility and boost your chances of conception. Not sure where to begin? Don’t hesitate to speak to a healthcare professional to get on the right track.
Unravelling a Mystery
Epigenetics as a possible cause for male infertility
One of the common problems subfertile couple faced is the issue concerning sperm quality and quantity. In the past, male issue had deemed to be responsible for 15-20% of the reason for subfertility. However, over the last 10 years, this issue had become more prevalent and it is estimated that around 40-50% of couples are suffering from male fertility issues.
A recent study in French men between 1989 and 2005 found a significant widespread declines in sperm quality , with average sperm counts falling while percentages of abnormally formed sperm rose. These findings are a “serious public health warning,” the authors wrote. The same findings were observed world wide suggesting a global decline in male fertility.
What can possibly be the culprit causing such decline? Could it be the air we breathe? Could it be the water we consume? Could it be the pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified food and etc?
There is no straightforward answer to this.
According to a 2011 study called Starting Families Asia, which surveyed 1000 women from 10 countries (including Malaysia), there is a widespread lack of knowledge about male fertility issues throughout Asia. The study showed that, “51% of women do not know that a man may be infertile even if he can achieve an erection, and 49% do not realise that a man may be infertile even though he produces sperm.”
Despite the lack of awareness, male infertility is a common problem, affecting 1 in 20 men. And among married couples struggling with infertility, 40% of the cases may be attributed to the man. Though it has been extensively studied, male infertility remains a complex problem and the underlying causes are usually unknown. However, a study by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) has suggested that the underlying cause for male infertility is epigenetics – the way that DNA is processed and expressed.
The consequences of epigenetic modification
Epigenetics are processes that alter gene activity, without changing the DNA sequence. They have a vital role to play in the body’s many processes, including those involved in conception, such as implantation, placentation and fetal growth. When these epigenetic processes are modified, due to genetic and environmental factors, the consequences are usually unfavourable.
To identify the link between epigenetic modification and male infertility, USC researchers studied the epigenetic state of DNA from semen samples of male patients at an infertility clinic. Their findings showed that, “Sperm DNA from men with low sperm counts or abnormal sperm had high levels of methylation. However, DNA from normal sperm samples showed no abnormalities of methylation.”
DNA methylation is the result of biochemical changes that happen during epigenetic reprogramming, and according to Rebecca Sokol, M.D., MPH, Pofessor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, “Disturbance of epigenetic programming can result in abnormal gene activity or function, even if there is no change in DNA sequence.”
The findings of this ground-breaking study show that there is a link between epigenetic defects and abnormal semen development. In addition, says Sokol, “It is plausible to speculate that male infertility may be added to the growing list of adulthood diseases that have resulted from fetal origins.”
As the results of this study point to underlying mechanisms that can cause epigenetic changes, the next step is for researchers to identify what causes these changes to sperm DNA. Once they have been identified, we will be one step closer to preventing certain types of male infertility. At present, it is believed that one of the possible causes of epigenetic alterations is chemical exposures. It has even been suggested that exposure to chemicals as a fetus may lead to adult diseases.