November is when alcohol awareness week takes place, so we asked Dr Geetha Venkat, director of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, to look at how it can affect fertility.
Current NHS guidelines suggest women should avoid drinking alcohol altogether if they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, to keep any risks to their unborn baby to a minimum.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight or preterm birth. It may well affect your babies’ health after they are born as when you drink, the alcohol crosses from your bloodstream through the placenta directly into your baby’s blood.
As infertility rates in the UK are on the increase, we have to wonder if regular alcohol consumption may have a more profound effect on our ability to conceive than we think. Alcoholic beverages contain a lot of sugar.
Excessive sugar consumption decreases fertility by contributing to hormonal imbalance, insulin resistance, yeast infection, vitamin and mineral deficiency and lowered immunity. All of which may impair fertility for both men and women.
Women and alcohol
For women, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can have a negative impact on ovulation and menstrual cycles, which is essential for conception. Alcohol also depletes the body of vital vitamins and minerals and we know, we need good levels of nutrition to make a healthy embryo and baby.
There is no ‘safe’ drinking amount when trying to conceive, so if you are trying for a baby, I suggest quitting alcohol altogether, or limiting it to very special occasions only. Recent research has shown, that even those women who consumed five drinks or less a week, had lowered fertility.
Abstaining also eliminates the possibility of a woman consuming alcohol before she knows she’s pregnant, and reduces the likelihood of damage to the embryo. In fact, studies show that if neither partner drinks at all, they are typically likely to get pregnant quicker than those who continue to drink alcohol.
However, if you decide not to abstain, limit drinking to no more than one to two units once or twice a week (two units equals a 175ml glass of wine).
Male fertility and alcohol
Studies have shown that consuming excessive amounts of alcohol lowers testosterone levels as well as the quality, quantity and motility of sperm. It has also been proven to cause impotence and reduce libido. However, by abstaining from alcohol the effects on fertility are easily reversed.
Couples planning to try for a baby should ideally abstain from alcohol for a few months before attempting to conceive, since sperm needs at least three months to mature.
If you decide not to abstain then I would strongly recommend staying within Government guidelines (3-4 units a day – a pint and a half of beer).
What to drink instead?
Throughout the day, stay healthily hydrated by choosing filtered or mineral water. I would recommend trying to consume around six larges glasses of water per day and aim for more if exercising. In terms of socialising, if you baulk at the idea of having an apple juice at your friend’s birthday party, there are now plenty of non-alcoholic cocktails beverages at your disposal that are just as delicious.