Does moderate alcohol intake affect sperm quality?

Does moderate alcohol intake affect sperm quality?

Read about the author Samantha Evans

On arriving home from a stressful day at work, all you want to do is enjoy a cold beer and relax on the sofa in front of the TV – but research published in the British Medical Journal Open (2014) has found that even moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the quality of sperm in men who are otherwise healthy.

The research, the first study of its kind, is important due to the culture of young men in the Western world drinking large quantities of alcohol. The researchers, including Professor Tina Kold Jensen of the University of Southern Denmark, examined 1,200 Danish male military recruits between the ages of 18-28, all of whom underwent a medical examination between 2008-2012.

They were asked about their drinking habits and were invited to give sperm and blood samples to assess their hormone levels. They found there was no significant link between sperm quality and alcohol consumption or binge drinking in the preceding month, but they did find that drinking alcohol in the previous week affected reproductive hormone levels: the effects of which increased in correlation with the amount of alcohol consumed.

The effects of drinking 5 or more units a week was found to reduce sperm count and affect the shape and size of the sperm and this was even more evident in men who drank 25 units or more each week. Men who drank 40 units per week were found to have sperm counts 33% lower and 51% less normal shaped sperm than the men who drank 1-5 units a week.

Drinking too much alcohol can actually put a dampener on your sex drive, affecting your sexual function. Most men have experienced erection problems after drinking heavily, and continuing to consume alcohol over prolonged periods of time can make a temporary condition like ‘brewer’s droop’ turn into erectile dysfunction, impacting upon your sex life in a more permanent way.

A study carried out by researchers at the Institut de Veille Sanitaire in Saint Maurice analysed data from semen samples collected from 126 fertility clinics in France and found that there has been a significant and continuous 32.2% decrease in sperm concentration over 17 years. Sperm count fell by 2% each year between 1989-2005 with the researchers calculating the average 35 year old male could see his sperm count drop from 73.6 million per millilitre to 49.9 million. Interestingly, the couples seeking fertility treatment at the clinics were doing so because of female fertility problems and not difficulties related to sperm count.

One in six Britons struggle to conceive and much of this has been blamed on low level environmental pollution, the use of contraceptives, couples starting families at a later age and lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking and drinking. The number of people seeking fertility treatment has risen during the last 5 years. As to whether this rise is due to an increase in male infertility, as a result of medical advances or availability of fertility treatment on the NHS is unknown.

Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can significantly affect your overall health, not just your sexual health, and it seems that drinking 1-5 units a week is the magic number for healthy sperm. Consider making changes to other aspects of your lifestyle, such as eating a well-balanced diet, taking more exercise and reducing stress to improve your sexual health and well-being.

Some sexual lubricants can slow down sperm motility so check what you are using and switch to a product that is more sperm friendly.