Alcohol use, especially heavy drinking, can disrupt key functions of the male reproductive system, including sperm production.
Article at a Glance:
Important takeaways about how alcohol affects male fertility include:
Heavy alcohol use harms male fertility by affecting all of the functions of the male reproductive system
Alcohol can disrupt the production of luteinizing hormones and follicle stimulating hormones, which can lead to harm to the sperm
Alcohol can harm the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary gland
Heavy alcohol use can lower testosterone levels
Alcohol use can affect sperm count, shape and motility
Ceasing alcohol use can boost male reproductive health
Alcohol and Male Fertility
Depending on how much a man drinks and how often they drink, the answer is yes, alcohol use can impact male fertility.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 58 percent of adult men had at least one drink of alcohol within the past month in 2016. Further, 23 percent of men had an average of eight drinks per sitting, multiple times in one month.
Given the high rate of alcohol use among men, some people may wonder about how alcohol can impact men, and even if alcohol affects men when trying to get pregnant. Studies show that among men with low to moderate alcohol use (up to two drinks per day for a man), alcohol consumption does not have an impact on their fertility or hormones. However, alcohol use that exceeds this count, also known as heavy alcohol use, can impact male fertility.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sperm?
Heavy alcohol use can affect how fertile a man is. It does this by directly impacting all three areas of the male reproductive system and the hormones they make.
Alcohol affects sperm production and health by interfering with the functioning of the male reproductive system. To understand how alcohol affects sperm, it’s essential to know how the male reproductive system operates to produce sperm.
The male reproductive system is made up of three parts of the body:
- The testes
- The hypothalamus in the brain
- The anterior pituitary gland, which is connected to the brain
Together, these areas of the body are called the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis, or HPG axis. Alcohol use can impact all of the areas of the HPG axis.
Male Hormones and Sperm
Hormones are crucial to male reproductive health and are produced in both the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary gland. Together, the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary gland make many common hormones in the body.
Two of the hormones that are made from the hypothalamus working with the anterior pituitary gland are:
- Luteinizing hormone, or LH
- Follicle stimulating hormone, which is also known as FSH
These hormones travel through the body and impact the testes, and they also play important roles in sperm production.
Alcohol Use Indirectly Impairs Sperm Production
Alcohol use, especially heavy alcohol consumption, can:
- Harm both the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary gland: Heavy alcohol use can reduce the amount of LH that is made and can even cause any LH that is made to be less potent than normal. Alcohol is also believed to reduce the amount of FSH that is made.
- Directly impact the testes: Heavy alcohol use can cause problems with the making of testosterone. It hurts testosterone production by harming the Leydig cells which produce it.
- Disrupt testosterone levels: Testosterone has many roles, and one of them is to help make sperm. The testes have a major role in the male reproductive system as they produce both testosterone and sperm. The LH signals the testes to make testosterone. Alcohol, though, can cause problems with this process. Both short-term and long-term heavy alcohol use has been shown to reduce testosterone levels.
- Stimulate estrogen production: Studies also show that heavy alcohol use can even turn testosterone precursor chemicals into estrogen. This effect leads to increased estrogen levels in men.
- Shrink the testes: Alcohol does this by causing loss of sperm cells and harming the seminiferous tubules where sperm is formed and the Sertoli cells where sperm grows.
- Lead to impotence and other health problems.
How Is Sperm Quality Affected By Alcohol?
You may be wondering about the effect of alcohol on sperm count. Alcohol use affects sperm quality in several ways.
- Alcohol abuse is believed to directly harm the Sertoli cells of the testes where sperm grows: This effect is even true of male fetuses before they are born. A study found that even after becoming adults, sperm and semen were abnormal in men whose mothers drank alcohol while pregnant.\
- Alcohol can harm sperm motility: Studies have shown that abnormal sperm is more common in men who drink more than three and a half servings of alcohol per day. Low sperm count, shape and movement have also been found in men who struggle with alcohol use, meaning there is a negative effect of alcohol on sperm motility.
- Sometimes men have a complete lack of sperm found in the semen, and researchers believe that this is also due to alcohol use: In one study of men who struggle with alcohol use, only 12 percent had normal semen. Among men in that study who had very heavy alcohol use, none had normal semen.
The more alcohol a man drinks in one day, the more likely the man is to have abnormal sperm. Stopping heavy alcohol use can improve male fertility, and another study has shown a clear improvement in semen within 90 days after stopping alcohol.
Have other questions about alcohol or its effects on the body? Are you interested in different alcohol-related topics? The Recovery Village can help you better understand problematic alcohol use and how this drug impacts the body.
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village offers many different addiction treatment options, including alcohol rehab, to help you lead a healthier life. Reach out to ustoday for more information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health.” Published on March 7, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2019.
Emanuele MA, Emanuele NV. “Alcohol’s effects on male reproduction.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1998. Accessed March 9, 2019.
Van Heertum K, Rossi B. “Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much?” Fertility Research and Practice, 2017. Accessed March 9, 2019.
Gude, D. “Alcohol and fertility.” Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, 2012. Accessed March 9, 2019.
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