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expert reaction to research on alcohol intake and male fertility

Scientists publishing in Andrology examine the association between moderate alcohol intake and higher semen volume, sperm concentration, and total sperm count.


Dr Channa Jayasena, Reproductive Endocrinologist at Imperial College London, said:

“The study focuses on the fact that men drinking the equivalent of 2 pints per week had slightly better sperm than men drinking 1 pint per week. However, it is important to highlight that non-drinkers had arguably the best sperm quality of anyone studied. So, I am afraid that aspiring fathers should not be tempted to increase their alcohol intake to improve their fertility.”


Prof Simon Fishel, Founder and President, CARE Fertility, said:

“This is a reasonably conducted study – single centre, single practitioner interviewing the patients. There is also a relatively large sample size compared to some other published studies. Like all such studies, it relies on self-classification by the patient and therefore potentially at risk of some inaccuracies.

“In terms of elevated sperm count and other seminal parameters, including semen volume, more studies need to be done to confirm this as it is contrary to other studies. Also, because sperm count is raised, it does not follow that fertility is improved; just as low sperm count does not necessarily mean infertility – many fertile men have a low sperm count.

“There are plausible scientific explanations for both a positive and negative influence of alcohol on sperm count – what matters is what is the real effect, and is that constant across the population, or just like other factors that affect people differently, are there individual mechanisms that interplay so that one person may be affected differently to another. We don’t know.

“I’ve mentioned some limitations; another is that this study was done only on infertile couples – not the general population. The outcome of the effect on fertilisation or fertility treatment was not reported.

“What we all agree on, however, is that heavy to binge drinking does have a deleterious effect, but moderate drinking may be risk-free in terms of measuring sperm count – not fertility per se – but the effects may be individually related and if a couple have a fertility issue, in general moderation, say 8 units per week, should not give cause for concern; but I would not use alcohol as a means to try to boost a low sperm count!


Prof Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, said:

“This is an interesting, albeit small, study which seems to show that moderate alcohol consumption (within UK guidelines) is associated with better sperm. At first this may be counter-intuitive as we are often told that alcohol consumption is bad for many aspects of health, including sperm.

“However, I have never been of the opinion that moderate alcohol consumption (i.e. within UK guidelines) is a significant risk to male fertility. Furthermore, in our 2012 study of the lifestyle factors of nearly 2,500 UK men we also found that moderate alcohol consumption was not a risk to poor sperm quality, but was in fact associated with a slight benefit.

“Having said this, I don’t think that men (or their partners) should conclude that it’s okay to be reckless. Other studies have shown that binge drinking is associated with poor sperm quality and so I always say that while it’s okay to have a glass of beer or wine with dinner, if you are trying for a baby a night on the lash should be avoided.”


* ‘Alcohol intake and semen variables: cross-sectional analysis of a prospective cohort study of men referring to an Italian Fertility Clinic’ by E. Ricci et al. published in Andrology on Wednesday 18 July. 


Declared interests

Prof Allan Pacey: “Chairman of the advisory committee of the UK National External Quality Assurance Schemes in Andrology, Editor in Chief of Human Fertility and Trustee of the Progress Educational Trust (all unpaid).  Also, recent work for the World Health Organisation, British Broadcasting Corporation, Purple Orchid Pharma (paid consultancy with all monies going to University of Sheffield).  Co-applicant on a research grant from the Medical Research Council (ref: MR/M010473/1).”

None others received.


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