How Does Alcohol Affect Male Fertility?
The amount of alcohol that a man drinks, and how frequently he drinks, can have a direct impact on male fertility. Although study results show that men who consume low to moderate levels of alcohol do not experience any adverse effects on their fertility, even a moderate intake of alcohol can have a negative affect on your sexual health, including a loss of sex drive and/or infertility.
How Much Alcohol Is Needed To Impact Male Fertility and Sperm Health?
While the social use of alcohol is commonly seen all around the globe, heavy drinking can cause many adverse health effects. Studies indicate that heavy drinking over extended periods (more than two drinks per day) and binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks within two hours) can cause harmful effects on sperm.
Consuming 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week can reduce testosterone levels and be detrimental to sperm count. According to the CDC (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention), excessive drinking in men is defined as:(1)
- Heavy drinking – 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week.
- Binge drinking – Consuming 5 or more drinks within 2-3 hours.
- Underage drinking – Drinking any alcohol under the age of 21.
How Alcohol Affects The Sperm And Male Fertility
The effects of alcohol on fertility include negative changes in sperm count, size, motility and morphology. Heavy drinking affects negatively affects male fertility in the following ways:(2)
- Disrupts hormonal balance – Ethanol, the principal ingredient in alcohol, lowers testosterone levels by decreasing coenzyme NAD+, which is essential for testosterone production that’s needed for healthy sperm.
- Can potentially shrink the testicles – Consuming alcohol can increase the level of aromatase enzyme, which converts testosterone to estrogen. The increase in estrogen can cause shrinkage of testicles, which could lead to infertility.
- Alters the release of gonadotropins – Alcohol use lowers the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), resulting in decreased sperm production.
- Leads to sexual dysfunction – Alcohol acts as a depressant, slowing down the body’s ability to respond to sexual stimulation. Additionally, while blood vessels in the penis constrict in order to create an erection, alcohol acts as a vasodilator that causes these vessels to relax. This often makes it difficult to achieve and/or maintain an erection. Further, consuming too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, making it difficult for the blood vessels to reach the penis in order to induce an erection. Excessive alcohol use can also lead to premature ejaculation and/or a reduction in semen volume.
- Alters the size, motility and morphology of healthy sperm – The protein produced by the Sertoli cells in testicles is essential for proper growth and nourishment of sperm. Consuming alcohol can cause Sertoli cell damage and lead to malformed and low numbers of sperm cells. In some cases, Azoospermia may be present (total lack of sperm formation).
Taking recreational drugs such as marijuana and opioids along with alcohol can reduce fertility as well. Also, liver damage resulting from excessive drinking has been shown to alter sperm quality.
Additionally, recent studies on both animals and humans have shown that alcohol exposure during early development and later on in life can cause alterations to DNA.(3) This could further lead to inherited health conditions such as alcohol use disorder and others. This connection still needs to be confirmed with further research, however.
Can The Effects Of Alcohol Be Reversed?
Fortunately, the negative effects that alcohol has on sperm quality can be reversed, and stopping alcohol use can improve fertility. According to one study, sperm production in men returned to normal 90 days after stopping alcohol consumption.(4)