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Two European Studies Show That High Alcohol Consumption And Other Unhealthy Lifestyle Choices Have A Detrimental Effect On Fertility

February 24, 2004
American Society for Reproductive Medicine

British researchers at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom found that males' high alcohol consumption , and females' smoking and high body weight have significant negative impact on the time it takes a couple to achieve pregnancy.

Two thousand, one hundred and twelve women attending pre-natal appointments answered questions on various factors relevant to their getting pregnant. Information collected included: time-to-pregnancy (TTP- the length of time from discontinuation of contraception to conception); history of contraceptive use; previous pregnancies; fertility history; gynecologic disease; and individual and lifestyle characteristics for themselves and their partners such as age, weight, smoking, alcohol, tea, coffee, and recreational drug consumption, and frequency of intercourse. The women's postal codes were used to link to an index indicating the standard of living in that geographical area.

Heavy smoking among women (more than 15 cigarettes a day) caused their TTP to double in comparison to non-smokers. Heavy alcohol consumption among men had a serious impact on fertility- also doubling the TTP. No women reported heavy alcohol consumption and it was noted that moderate alcohol intake by women or men did not affect the TTP. Women's heavy tea or coffee intake (more than 6 cups a day) did have some effect on fertility.

Other factors contributing to a longer TTP included morbid obesity among women (BMI more than 39), age (over 35 for females and over 45 for males) and low standard of living Couples who had two the negative factors had a TTP 2.4 times longer than couples with no factors and those who had 5 or more negative factors had a TTP 7.3 times greater.

(Hassan and Killick, Negative lifestyle is associated with a significant reduction in fecundity, Fertility and Sterility, Vol.81, No.2, February 2004.)

In a large-scale prospective study, Swedish doctors found that women who were high consumers of alcohol had a significantly higher risk of undergoing an examination for infertility than those women who were moderate consumers of alcohol. The researchers followed a randomly selected group of 7,393 women residing in Stockholm County for 18 years, tracking their hospitalizations for deliveries, miscarriages, abortions, gynecologic disease and infertility examinations.

The women were enrolled in the study in 1969 and at the time were between the ages of 18 and 28. At enrollment, they answered a questionnaire about health needs, physical and social difficulties in their lives and alcohol use. They were classified as high, moderate or low consumers of alcohol. High consumption was defined as more than 140 grams of alcohol per week; low consumption as less than 50 grams per week.

The data on alcohol consumption was obtained only once, at the beginning of the study, before the tracking of medical records began. The authors note that, while alcohol consumption usually declines with age, the relationship between high and low consumers should be fairly constant over time.

(Eggert et al, Effects of alcohol consumption on female fertility during an 18-year period, Fertility and Sterility, Vol.81, No.2, February 2004.)

Robert Schenken, MD, President-Elect of ASRM, noted, "We need to inform primary care physicians and the public that for some patients healthy lifestyle choices may be the best way to avoid an infertility medical evaluation and treatment."

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