Alcohol Appears to Impact Sperm Quality Based on Consumption
It has long been known that alcohol has a significant effect upon human sexuality, especially in males. For example, there is strong evidence that the abuse of alcohol has powerful effects on erectile function and libido, and that it also suppresses Testosterone Production. New research, conducted in Denmark, suggests that Alcohol use also has a direct impact on sperm quality, and at drinking levels that are somewhat lower than you might expect.
In this study, a total of 1221 men were examined, all of which were no younger than 18 and no older than 28. In Denmark, all men are required to undergo a physical in order to assess their ability to serve in the Danish military. Men are technically conscripted to military service in Denmark, but in the end, only less than 10% of their military is drafted. These physicals do provide a host of medical data which can be used for clinical analysis, however.
Part of their physical is oral, and patients were asked about their history of alcohol use. Participants were asked the following questions regarding their alcohol use:
How much alcohol did you drink in the last week?
Is this level of alcohol consumption normal?
How often do you engage in binge drinking (more than five drinks in one day)
How many times have you been inebriated in the last month?
During their physical, the participants were also encouraged to voluntarily provide a blood sample and semen sample for analysis. These samples were diagnostically analyzed in order to provide a snapshot of both the hormone balance (via blood sample) and the sperm health (via semen sample) of the participants.
How Much Do Young Men Drink in Denmark?
The data shows that young men in Denmark drink quite a bit. Overall, participants averaged eleven drinks in the previous seven days. Out of all of the men, almost 60% were inebriated more than two times in the last month, and nearly two out of three had went out on a binge at least once in the last month.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sperm Quality?
Based on the data, there appeared to be no direct link between the amount of alcohol drunk or the amount of binge drinking performed in the prior month. This seems to suggest that alcohol itself does not have any long-term effects on sperm quality. On the other hand, men that drank in the last week did have suppressed sex-hormone levels, and the level of suppression was directly correlated with the amount of alcohol consumed.
What researchers found was that, among these drinkers, levels of Testosterone in the blood stream increased, and Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin Levels in the blood stream dropped. These changes in hormone balance were also notable among men that engaged in binge drinking or heavy drinking performed in the last month, and were correlated both with the amount of binging and the number of times that the participants got drunk in the last thirty days.
Nearly half of the participants in this study admitted that the amount that they drank in the last week was normal for them every week. Researchers looked into the sperm health of participants that steadily drank the same amount every week and found that the more that they drank per week, the weaker their sperm health, particularly in the proportion of normal and healthy sperm to malformed sperm, as well as the overall sperm production of the male. Researchers controlled for a variety of factors to increase the power of the results.
What researchers found was that men started to have issues with sperm quality when they drank five or more drinks per week. These effects were notable but not powerful at lower levels of consumption, but men that drank at least 25 drinks per week experienced readily apparent changes in sperm health and production.
Men that drank 40 drinks each week, minimum, for example, had sperm counts that were 2/3s of males that drank one to five beers per week. The heavy drinkers also had more than 50% less healthy sperm, compared to light drinkers. Fertility depends on both sperm quality and sperm count, and both are very important. Healthy sperm is also vitally important for fertilization. Sperm that have more than one tail, or have tails which function abnormally, for example, won't be able to effectively reach their destination.
Overall, Hormone Production was most significantly affected by recent alcohol consumption, although alcohol consumption over the prior month did play a notable role. Interestingly enough, light drinkers were the group most likely to have the healthiest sperm. Men that drank 1-5 drinks per week had healthier sperm than those that drank no alcohol at all.
What Can Be Learned from this Study?
It's important to note that, by the nature of this study, it is impossible to draw definite conclusions regarding how alcohol impacts reproductive health, because of the number of factors at play which are not sufficiently controlled for. For example, these differences in sexual health could be compounded by other factors of behavior and lifestyle. For example, men that are sedentary produce less Testosterone, as well as men that smoke.ffffff
Although this study does not have definitive power alone, it does corroborate with evidence collected in other, more controlled studies, particularly those conducted in animal research. There is undeniable evidence that in animal research, alcohol does have a negative influence on sperm health.
Why Is This Study Important?
There isn't a lot of data out there regarding how alcohol effects healthy men. The researchers believe that this is the first research of its kind to evaluate hormone and sperm quality as a function of alcohol consumption in healthy men. Europe, as a whole, as well as the United States, is known for its alcohol consumption, so it is vitally important to learn more about how drinking impacts health at every stage of life, and that includes reproductive health.
It's also important to gather this data so that young men understand all of the risks associated with their vices, and how alcohol can impact their health.
This information is also important for older men, or men that are having trouble conceiving a child with their partner, because it shows how alcohol can potentially be a roadblock to both hormone health and the ability to easily have children. It shows that cutting back on alcohol potentially increases the body's ability to produce both Testosterone and healthy sperm.