The Effect of Alcohol on Reproductive Health

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An overview of alcohol use
Health effects of alcohol consumption
Impacts on Men’s reproductive health
Impacts on Women’s reproductive health
References
Further reading


Although excessive alcohol use is most commonly associated with liver toxicity, it may also increase the risk of various other diseases.

Image Credit: The img/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: The img/Shutterstock.com

Since men are often more likely to drink excessively, much research has been conducted to understand better the potential impact of alcohol consumption on men’s reproductive health. Several studies have also confirmed the impact of alcohol use on women’s reproductive health.

An overview of alcohol use

In the United States, a standard alcoholic drink will contain about 0.6 ounces of alcohol, which is equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of beer with an alcohol content of 5%, a five-ounce glass of wine with an alcohol content of 12%, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey, which has an alcohol content of 40%.

The consumption of alcohol is often described as moderate or excessive alcohol drinking. Moderate drinking is generally limited to two or fewer drinks in men and one drink daily in women.

Excessive drinking can be further classified as binge or heavy drinking. Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, occurs when women drink four or more drinks, or men drink five or more drinks during a single occasion. Conversely, heavy drinking is defined as the consumption of eight or more drinks per week by women and fifteen or more drinks each week in men.

Health effects of alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption is commonly associated with liver cirrhosis, oral cavity cancers, esophagus, intestines, and breasts, as well as cardiovascular diseases. Other long-term effects associated with excessive alcohol use include high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, learning and memory problems, depression, anxiety, social problems, and alcohol use disorders.

In addition to long-term health risks, excessive alcohol use can also lead to immediate effects, including injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, burns, violence, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behaviors, as well as miscarriage and stillbirth in pregnant women.

Impacts on Men’s reproductive health

Both clinical and preclinical studies have suggested that alcohol consumption negatively affects various aspects of male reproductive health, particularly in terms of hormone secretion and the production of sperm cells.

In addition to altered spermatogenesis, several studies have confirmed that alcohol use also alters the morphological characteristics of sperm cells by inducing breaks in the sperm head, distention of the midsection, and curling of the sperm tail. The most frequently reported abnormality across several studies is an increased percentage of morphologically abnormal spermatozoa.

One study reported that a moderate-to-severe reduction in spermatogenesis occurred in 14% of men who died suddenly and regularly consumed alcohol, as compared to only nine of the 137 men who died from severe or very severe fatty liver disease. Thus, testicular spermatogenesis may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than liver tissue.

Image Credit: Christoph Burgstedt/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: Christoph Burgstedt/Shutterstock.com

Notably, all levels of alcohol use are associated with some degree of effects on male reproductive health. This is largely due to the direct effects of ethanol on the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular (HPT) axis, which can impair the secretion of both the luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), subsequently leading to hypotestosteronemia.

The increased likelihood of participating in risky sexual behaviors while inebriated may also increase the likelihood of developing sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) and other infectious diseases.

Impacts on Women’s reproductive health

There is a limited quantity of studies that have assessed the association between alcohol use and impacts on the female reproductive system, particularly as compared to the studies that have been conducted in men. Nevertheless, there is some evidence suggesting that both drug and alcohol use can alter a woman’s menstrual cycle and lead to amenorrhea, which is defined as the absence of a menstrual period.

Women who abuse any type of drug are at an increased risk of certain cancers, including those that affect the reproductive organs. For example, substance use disorder increases the risk of acquiring certain vora; infections, including those that are sexually transmitted like the human papilloma virus (HPV). A history of HPV infection increases a woman’s risk of cervical cancer.

Drug and alcohol abuse has also been shown to affect fertility in women. Furthermore, excessive alcohol and drug use also impairs a woman’s sexual desires, including her ability to be sexually aroused and experience pleasure.

In addition to directly impacting the female reproductive system, several studies have also found that women who consume alcohol during pregnancy may also lead to impaired sperm parameters and reduced hormone levels in their male offspring. To this end, one study that monitored the adult sons born to Danish women for over 20 years found that their prenatal alcohol exposure was associated with reduced sperm concentrations, semen volume, and total sperm count.  

Does alcohol affect male fertility? - BBC REEL

References

Further Reading

 

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.

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