Alcohol Consumption and Measured Effects on IVF & Fertility
Whether you are trying to conceive naturally or with the help of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), at some point there needs to be an important discussion regarding alcohol consumption and the measured effects on natural pregnancy rates and IVF success rates. Alcohol can affect both male and female fertility, but the question is, how many drinks does it take to have a negative effect? A recent scientific review evaluated the available evidence on alcohol and its effects on fertility, for both Men and Women.
Alcohol consumption while undergoing fertility treatments appears to be somewhere between 26-41%. Therefore it is important to consider the effects of alcohol on natural fertility and on IVF success.
Effects on Female Reproduction
Some of the research in this area has been conflicting. Some studies have found that regular alcohol consumption contributes to menstrual irregularity and ovulatory dysfunction, while other studies failed to find a connection between the two.
Binge drinking (drinking about 4 drinks within a span of 2 hours) has been associated with increased estrogen, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels in the blood.
One study found that binge drinking twice a week reduced Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH - a measure of Ovarian Reserve) by about 26% compared to Women who drink regularly but do not binge drink.
Consuming between 1-5 drinks a week may reduce the likelihood of a clinical pregnancy by up to 39% compared to Women who do not drink. The magnitude of this relationship needs more research as some studies cannot find any link between alcohol consumption and decreased fertility. One study in particular found that consuming > 10 drinks a week reduced the chance of clinical pregnancy by about 66% when compared to Women who abstained from alcohol.
Researchers from Denmark found in a study that consuming between 1-6 drinks a week significantly increased the chances of experiencing infertility compared to Women who had <1 drink a week.
Effects on Male Reproduction
Heavy drinking has been positively correlated with decreased testicular size, increased estrogen levels, and decreased Testosterone levels in the blood. With it, there has been an observed decrease in sperm quality and occasionally an absence of viable sperm altogether (azoospermia).
Various studies have documented a decrease in sperm morphology with regular drinking, and no other changes in sperm analysis parameters. Other studies have failed to find a connection altogether between drinking and sperm health. Moderate drinking (defined as 2 drinks a day) has failed to show changes in sperm quality in some studies while heavy drinking (binge drinking, having 5 drinks within a 2 hour period, more than 5 days a month) seems to show a stronger negative effect on sperm health.
Effect on IVF Success Rates from Alcohol Consumption in Men & Women
Even small amounts of alcohol (1 drink/day for Women and 2 drinks/day for Men) have been associated with significant decreases in clinical pregnancy rates. The consumption of one additional drink per day in the month leading up to the ART cycle was shown to decrease the amount of oocytes retrieved by 13%, almost triple the risk of not having a successful cycle, and almost triple the risk of a miscarriage.
For Men, the consumption of Alcohol in the month before an IVF (especially the week immediately before an IVF) decreased the likelihood of a live birth.
In Women, consumption of 4 drinks or more per week during the actual IVF led to a 16% decrease in the success rate for IVF. And for heterosexual couples when both the Man and Woman had 4 or more alcoholic beverages per week during the actual treatment cycle the success rate went down further.
The reason the researchers believe that alcohol consumption decreased the number of oocytes retrieved and lowered the IVF success rate is because the alcohol may interfere with the liver's ability to metabolize and process the medications that are being used during IVF and therefore negatively affect the development of the follicles and decrease the production of estrogen from the follicles.
While more research is needed to accurately determine the safe dose of alcohol during preconception, there is no currently established safe dose. Therefore researchers from the study recommended completely eliminating any alcohol consumption. They recommended that female patients reduce their consumption during the preconception phase as even small amounts can decrease live birth rates, that male patients should avoid heavy drinking, and males should avoid alcohol altogether at least in the week prior to providing a sperm sample.
This article is in no way a replacement for medical advice or medical care, it is advised that anyone concerned about their Health should speak with their Naturopathic Doctor or Primary Care Provider.
1. Heertum, K. V., & Rossi, B. (2017). Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much? Fertility Research and Practice, 3(1).