Drinking doesn’t just lead to ill-advised drunk Amazon purchases, bad tattoos, and romantic pursuits that looked way better last night. The effects of alcohol on your fertility have been rigorously studied and the results are in: alcohol and male fertility are mortal enemies.
Alcohol and Your Penis
The association between drinking too much and not being able to..ahem..rise to the occasion isn’t exactly a surprise. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that knocking back one too many can slow your body’s response system- while your brain may be firing all the signals to your penis that it’s time to get down, your below the belt buddy may be a little slow on the uptake.
If you’ve read our article on how erections work, you know that the key to a good erection lies in your circulation. During arousal, the more blood that can rush to your penis, the stronger it will be. But here’s the catch- when the blood gets to your penis, it has to stay there. Normally, this occurs when the veins that transport blood out of the penis are constricted, trapping the blood in the penis. When you’ve had a few too many, you blood vessels dilate, allowing for all of the blood that rushed into the penis when you were aroused to rush back out of the penis, leading to a weak, short-term erection or even no erection at all.
While drinking too much every so often can lead to dilation of the blood vessels, drinking too, much too often can lead to the opposite problem: high blood pressure. High blood pressure makes it difficult for the blood to even reach the penis in the first place, and no rush of blood to your penis=no erection.
Alcohol and Your Hormones
Drinking too much over a long period of time can also impact your testosterone production. When the key ingredient in alcohol, ethanol, is absorbed by your body, it lowers the amount of coenzyme NAD+, which is a crucial element in testosterone production. Alcohol also damages your testosterone producing Leydig cells. While your alcohol consumption causes your testosterone to decrease, it also causes your estrogen to increase. This one-two punch is due to heavy alcohol consumption increasing aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. This decrease in testosterone and increase in estrogen can lead to erectile dysfunction and even testicular shrinkage.
Alcohol and Your Sperm
As we mentioned before, alcohol damages your testosterone production. Since testosterone is crucial to sperm production, this hormonal damage can lead to lowered sperm counts. While your body’s sperm production is declining, the sperm that you do have are also being damaged.
Alcohol is toxic- meaning it’s a very low dose of poison that causes cellular death. As we’ve mentioned before, sperm are very sensitive cells that can be easily affected by toxin exposure. So knocking back those drinks is sending toxic chemicals to attack your fragile cells.
How much is too much?
A beer after work every so often isn’t going to nuke your swim team. Now the question becomes, when does drinking start affecting your fertility? It depends on the type of drinking.
Defining a Drink
Not all alcohol is created equal. You probably know that different drinks contain different levels of alcohol. Depending on your tolerance, 12 ounces of beer won’t do much, but 12 ounces of tequila could leave you clutching the toilet and praying to whatever god you believe in that you won’t remember much of this experience in the morning. With all the different types of alcohol out there, it can be difficult to figure out what amount qualifies as one drink. Look at the red solo cup on the left for a guide to defining a drink.
The Center for Disease control defines heavy drinking as having 15 drinks or more per week. Heavy drinking is the most dangerous for your fertility because it doesn’t allow your body time to rest and recover from the damage you’ve done to it by drinking. While we’ve already discussed how alcohol affects your fertility, long-term heavy drinking takes it one step further. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to major liver damage, and since the liver is responsible for processing hormones, this can lead to increased estrogen and major hormonal imbalance. Chronic heavy drinking will also damages blood vessels and increases blood pressure, leading to more severe erectile dysfunction, and even impotence. Finally, continuing to drink heavily on a regular basis may permanently damage sperm production.
Binge drinking (defined by the CDC as having 5 or more drinks within the span of two hours) is the more popular form of alcohol abuse in younger. While the results of occasional binge drinking are reversible, the immediate effects can damage your current fertility. Binge drinking spikes your cortisol for around 24 hours after you’ve partied. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can destroy your testosterone molecules if it’s levels are too high. This means that for roughly 24 hours after you binge drink, your testosterone molecules are being destroyed, tanking your testosterone levels. In addition to increased cortisol, your blood pressure temporarily increases during a binge, which can lead to impaired erectile function.
Binge drinking can be hell on the liver, overworking it and interfering with what it does best: processes and breaks down hormones. When you binge drink, your liver is temporarily unavailable to break down estrogen, knocking your hormones out of balance.
Finally, an episode of binge drinking can exposure your sperm to large amount of toxic alcohol, tanking your sperm count. It takes around 72 days for new sperm to be fully developed, meaning that your fertility will take about three months to fully recover from an episode of binge drinking.
So now what?
We’re not going to tell you to just give up alcohol completely. We get it. It’s hard to avoid something that seems to be everywhere. However, if you’re trying to conceive, cutting back on alcohol can make it a little easier. Even if you aren’t trying to conceive, avoiding the booze can keep your testosterone high and your liver healthy, helping you feel stronger, younger, and healthier.