Does alcohol consumption affect fertility and in vitro fertilization (IVF)? In the United States, the percent of adults age 18 years and older who have at least one heavy drinking day in the past year is 25%. Heaving drinking is defined by 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Based on reports from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 87% of people age 18 or older reported drinking alcohol at some time in their lives, and 56% admitted to drinking during the past month. These statistics are from a 2013 survey.
In vitro fertilization is a series of procedures used to help couples become pregnant. During IVF, the woman takes medication to help with egg development through a process called ovarian stimulation. The eggs are retrieved via a simple medical procedure. Then, eggs are placed in a laboratory petri dish and fertilized with the male partner’s sperm. Once embryos develop, they are placed inside the female partner’s uterus in a process called embryo transportation.
In a recent study conducted by Rossi and associates, researchers evaluated more than 4,700 in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles that involved more than 2,500 couples. During the investigation, couples were given questionnaires regarding their alcohol consumption at the start of the IVF cycle, but not during the cycle or pregnancy. The main outcome the researchers were interested in was the live birth rate following IVF. Investigators found that for women or men undergoing IVF, drinking 4 or more alcoholic drinks per week before the IVF cycle was associated with a 48% increased risk for failed fertilization. In addition, the risk for live birth was 21% lower.
Alcohol appears to have a negative effect on fertility. However, the researchers stress that while there is much published evidence related to adverse effects of alcohol upon the fetus during pregnancy, there is little data regarding alcohol’s effect on fertility. Additionally, experts theorize that couples undergoing IVF usually cannot conceive without assistance, and therefore, these individuals may not limit alcohol consumption before the IVF cycle. In this study, infertile couples reported less drinking than the general population, with 44-66% reporting alcohol use and 62-74% reporting being regular drinkers.
In a study conducted at Harvard Medical School, researchers asked 2,574 couples about their alcohol consumption before they went through IVF treatment. Based on reports, 56% of women and 33% of men reported less than one drink a week. In addition, 4% of women and 5% of men consumed at least one drink every day. Dr. Rossi, lead researcher, reported that women and men who drink 6 units of alcohol each week significantly reduced their likelihood of pregnancy.
At this level of consumption, women were at least 18% less likely to have a successful delivery with IVF, and men reduced chances of fatherhood by at least 14%. The IVF success rates were also influenced for men who drank beer and women who drank white wine. In this study, the average age of the men was 37, and the average age of women was 34.
Based on the guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), women should stop drinking before conception and during pregnancy. The link between conception and alcohol is an area where the evidence is not clear. In addition, couples who struggle with fertility are more affected by alcohol consumption than those who are fertile.
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