Alcohol Consumption And IVF – It Does Matter!

Just this week, we saw another study on the effects of alcohol and IVF success. In a presentation at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) meeting, a report from the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York concluded that drinking as little as three small glasses of wine a week could reduce a woman’s chances of conceiving by two thirds over a 3-year period.

In 2011, a report from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School concluded that the consumption of as few as four alcoholic drinks per week in women is associated with a 16% decrease in IVF live birth rate. This study also showed a further reduction in live birth rates if the male partner also drank at least four alcoholic drinks per week.

While both of these studies looked specifically at IVF, there is certainly concern about women and men attempting pregnancy naturally or with other treatments than IVF and alcohol.

The effects of alcohol on both female and male fertility have yet to be clearly defined. When one refers to published medical literature, some studies have concluded that alcohol has a detrimental effect while others suggest that alcohol consumption enhances fertility.

There are different recommendations regarding alcohol consumption from a number of medical societies. Here are few examples:

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises, “women should avoid alcohol entirely while pregnant or trying to conceive because damage can occur in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, even before a woman knows that she is pregnant.”
  • In Great Britain, current guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence:
          1. Women who are trying to become pregnant should be informed that drinking no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice per week and avoiding episodes of intoxication reduces the risk of harming a developing fetus. [2004]
        1. Men should be informed that alcohol consumption within the Department of Health’s recommendations of three to four units per day for men is unlikely to affect their sperm quality [2004, amended 2012]
        2. Men should be informed that excessive alcohol intake is detrimental to semen quality. [2004]
  • In the September 2013 ASRM publication Optimizing Natural Fertility: a Committee Opinion, their recommendations states: “higher levels of alcohol consumption (>2 drinks per day) should be discouraged for couples trying to conceive. The opinion also states, “ of course, alcohol consumption should cease altogether during pregnancy because alcohol has well- documented detrimental effects on fetal development, and no ‘‘safe’’ level of alcohol consumption has been established. In men alcohol consumption has no adverse effect on semen parameters.”

Here is my take:

  1. When attempting pregnancy, it may be best for both women and men to limit or completely abstain from alcohol consumption.
  2. Alcohol may negatively influence both egg and sperm development and function.
  3. The greatest negative effects of alcohol are likely to be seen in those who consume several drinks daily or with binge drinking.
  4. Given that egg and sperm maturation takes up to 3 months, it is ideal to stop/reduce alcohol consumption for at least three months before attempting pregnancy.
  5. The consumption of as few as 2-4 alcoholic drinks per week in women and 4 alcoholic drinks per week in men may significantly reduce the success of IVF.
  6. Once pregnant, there is no safe level of alcohol intake for women.

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