Alcohol and Reproductive Health

Drinking alcohol has its own set of effects on the human mind and body, and there are many body systems that are impacted by alcohol intake. One such system, which receives very limited attention about its correlation with alcohol, is the reproductive system–the sexual organs and their function.

How We Process Alcohol

Men and women differ in the way their bodies respond to excessive alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol consumption includes binge drinking, heavier than normal drinking, drinking while pregnant, and underage drinking.

Binge drinking is considered imbibing four or more alcoholic beverages for a woman and five or more for a man per outing. Heavy drinking is identified by eight or more alcoholic beverages per week for women and fifteen or more for men, on a regular basis.

Due to a woman’s body composition and function, there are a few differences to consider when women drink alcohol, which include:

  • Women more readily absorb alcohol
  • Metabolizing or removing alcohol from the female body takes longer

When men and women drink the same amount of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol levels and the effects of the alcohol take hold faster and last longer than they do in men. It takes a woman one-third longer than a man to eliminate ingested alcohol. A woman’s higher body fat and lower water content are the underlying reasons for the more dramatic impact of alcohol on females.

How Alcohol Affects Men

First, a look at the possible effects excessive alcohol consumption can have on a male:

  • Testicular atrophy or shrinkage
  • Testicular function is reduced
  • Reduction of male hormone production
  • Sperm production is reduced and sperm characteristics are negatively affected

Any of the factors above can lead to these physical issues:

  • Impotence and loss of libido or sex drive
  • Infertility due to changes in sperm motility and structure
  • Reduction of facial and chest hair due to male hormone changes

How Alcohol Affects Women

There are some interesting, yet concerning, facts about the effects of alcohol on a woman’s body. Because of hormonal changes in women, heavy alcohol intake can:

  • Cause cessation or irregularities of the menstrual cycle
  • Cause infertility due to irregular ovulation
  • Lead to early menopause
  • Increase the chance of miscarriage, stillbirth or premature labor and delivery
  • Drinking alcohol while pregnant can lead to a baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which can cause mental disabilities and birth defects

Another concerning caveat to drinking while pregnant is the fact that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is more common among women who have regularly consumed alcohol while pregnant. This is especially true for women who binge drink during the first trimester of the pregnancy.

While some doctors and groups espouse that moderate drinking, especially in the late stages of pregnancy, is acceptable, The American of College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend any alcohol consumption while pregnant, even in moderation.

The Bottom Line Regarding Alcohol and Reproduction

The effects of alcohol on the male and female reproductive systems can be seen as early as three months after starting to drink excessively, as well as in the long-term. The reassuring point is that many of the infertility and sexual health problems caused by excessive drinking can be reversed, once drinking is stopped. If you are planning to get pregnant, or actively trying to conceive with your partner, it is recommended that you stop drinking alcohol to protect the health of your pregnancy, and the health of your baby.

 


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