When it comes to alcohol and fertility, the focus is quite often on the woman.

We know about the harmful effects of drinking while pregnant, but what about drinking before pregnancy? And how does drinking affect male fertility? Is it a big deal? Should you even worry about it?

Yes, you should.

Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can affect your sexual health. It can lead to loss of libido and infertility in both men and women.

Read on to learn how alcohol affects sperm and male and female fertility.

Social alcohol use is common around the world, but heavy drinking has lots of bad health effects. In the United States, a 2015 survey found nearly 27 percent of those 18 or older reported binge drinking in the past month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in approximately 35 percent of cases of infertility, male and female factors were identified.

Studies show heavy, consistent drinking or binge drinking — five or more drinks in men in a two-hour timeframe — have negative effects on sperm.

More than 14 mixed drinks in a week can lower testosterone levels and affect sperm count.

The CDC defines excessive drinking as follows:

Binge drinkingHeavy drinkingUnderage drinkingPregnant drinking
Males5 or more drinks on one occasion (within 2 to 3 hours)15 or more drinks per weekany alcohol used under age 21 n/a
Females4 or more drinks on one occasion (within 2 to 3 hours)8 or more drinks per weekany alcohol used under age 21 any alcohol

The bad news

Alcohol can affect fertility by altering sperm count, size, shape, and motility.

In men, heavy drinking affects fertility by:

  • lowering testosterone levels, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone, and raising estrogen levels, which reduce sperm production
  • shrinking the testes, which can cause impotence or infertility
  • changing gonadotropin release which impacts sperm production
  • causing early ejaculation or decreased ejaculation
  • changing the shape, size, and movement of healthy sperm

Combining drugs like marijuana or opioids with alcohol also lowers fertility. In addition, liver disease caused by excessive drinking can change sperm quality.

Moreover, recent animal and human studies show exposure to alcohol during early development and later in life leads to changes in the DNA. This, in turn, may lead to alcohol use disorder and other inherited health problems. More research, however, is needed to confirm this connection.

The good news

The effects of alcohol on sperm count are reversible.

The good news is that the effects are reversible. One study showed it took three months for the return of healthy sperm production once alcohol consumption stops.

Mountain Dew and hand sanitizer

  • Mountain Dew. There’s no truth to the myth about Mountain Dew lowering or killing sperm. Research has found no link between drinking Mountain Dew and low sperm count.
  • Hand sanitizers. Do hand sanitizers have an effect on sperm? One recent study found the antibacterial agent triclosan can lower sperm count. While repeated exposure to certain chemicals can damage sperm, more studies are needed to confirm the effect of antibacterial agents on sperm.

Alcohol can lower the chances of becoming pregnant.

According to a recent study, regular heavy drinking can reduce female fertility by:

  • interrupting menstrual cycle and ovulation causing changes to ovarian function, known as amenorrhea and anovulation, respectively
  • changing hormone levels of testosterone, estradiol and luteinizing hormone
  • causing hyperprolactinemia or high prolactin in the blood

Studies also confirm alcohol exposure during pregnancy is harmful. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are one example of a side effect.

A healthy lifestyle is a crucial part of boosting fertility. Excessive drinking, stress, anxiety, being overweight, and smoking can all hurt your health and fertility.

A new study found those who consumed a healthy Mediterranean diet had higher sperm quality. This was especially true for those eating more fruits, vegetables, seafood, and healthy grains.

Read about more ways to boost male fertility and sperm count.

Tips for increasing male fertility

Lifestyle, medications, and hormonal or genetic conditions can all play a role in infertility. Typically, a male hormone analysis and semen analysis can help identify underlying issues.

You can also try home test kits. However, these kits will only tell you sperm count. They don’t tell you about other possible reasons for infertility such as quality or movement of sperm.

It’s best to speak to your doctor if you have concerns and are considering testing your sperm.

Whether you’ve been trying for a while or you’re just starting to plan for a family, there’s no time like the present to make some healthy lifestyle changes.

You can make a healthy start by:

Schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about any specific fertility concerns. Always talk to your pharmacist and doctor before you consider any over-the-counter vitamins or supplements.