Moderate alcohol consumption improves male fertility, study finds

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Good news for men concerned about their alcohol consumption when they're trying to conceive a baby: a new study has found moderate consumption can actually help, leading to higher semen volume, sperm concentration and total sperm count.

There has long been a focus on what women do and don't put in their bodies when it comes to conceiving a baby, but more recently we're beginning to learn that men can also contribute to fertility – or infertility.

The Italian study, published in Andrology, studied 323 men whose alcohol consumption varied, and reviewed their semen. What scientists found was that men who consumed four to seven units of alcohol in a week had the greatest semen volume, sperm concentration and total sperm count – leading to the best possible chance of conception.

One unit of alcohol is equal to 125ml of wine, 330ml of beer, or 30ml of spirits. It's important to note those quantities are generally less than what many Australians would consume as a regular drink.

The Australian Department of Health reports the volume of an average stubbie of beer is 375ml, and an average sized glass of wine at a restaurant is 1.5 standard drinks – so it's important to be informed about how much alcohol you are consuming. Commercially available alcoholic drinks are required to state on the label how many standard drinks are contained in the product.

Those in the study who drank less, and those who drank more than four to seven drinks, had less impressive results in the study.

The lead author of the study, Dr Elena Ricci, said the message of the study was clear.

"Since the dose makes the poison, [men trying to conceive] are counselled to limit but not avoid alcohol," she said.

Leading fertility specialist and obstetrician Dr Joseph Sgroi agrees.

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"For men, the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption are more relaxed than they are for women when trying to conceive," he says. Although Dr Sgroi is quick to point out this doesn't mean carte blanche for men.

"This isn't reason for fellas to book a regular night out at the pub to boost their fertility," he states. "It is important to note that the subjects of this recent study self-reported their own alcohol intake which is a limitation of the research data, so more research is needed to know what the impact really is."

In the meantime, Dr Sgroi recommends men don't exceed the guidelines of four to seven standard drinks a week.

"Heavy drinking can play havoc with a man's fertility," he says. "Excessive drinking and alcoholism can affect the function of the testes which impacts quality sperm production, decreases testosterone production, and can even cause impotence and erectile dysfunction."

Dr Sgroi says alcohol is just one factor that can affect fertility, and it should be considered alongside other lifestyle factors.

"For couples who are trying to conceive, and things aren't happening as quickly as they would like, I'd recommend getting back to basics and taking a look at what lifestyle factors could be cleaned up," he says.

"Adopting a healthy and active lifestyle, eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and staying away from tobacco and alcohol may enhance your fertility."

Dr Sgroi says it's important to understand that male fertility goes beyond the testes. Other factors that may affect male fertility include anything that can affect the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus is responsible for many bodily functions, including the release of fertility hormones by the pituitary gland.

"A serious head trauma, infection, brain tumour, radiation, surgery and significant weight loss can affect the hypothalamus and, in turn, your fertility," he explains. "Pituitary deficiency can disrupt hormones produced by the testicles required for fertility."

Dr Sgroi says it's important for men to take ownership of their own health and their contribution to a couple's fertility.

"Men are sometimes surprised when I ask the about their diet and alcohol consumption during a couple's fertility consultation," he says.

"In 26 per cent of couples presenting with infertility the cause could be related to male factors either related to hormones, low or absent sperm counts, or chromosomal abnormalities.

"It makes sense to take care of your own health and wellness, especially when trying to conceive. I encourage my patients to stick to the 80/20 rule, so spending 80 per cent of the time making nutritious food choices versus 20 per cent of indulgences, including alcohol.

"We all crave hot chips, chocolate or a glass of wine from time to time."