Overconsuming alcohol negatively affects almost every aspect of your health. Your hormone health is no exception.
Drinking alcohol excessively can cause both short-term and long-term changes to many hormones in your body, including testosterone.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone. It gives men their masculine features and plays a critical role in muscle and bone growth as well as sperm development.
When testosterone levels drop, it can lead to problems, such as:
- erectile dysfunction
- loss of muscle mass
Even though this article focuses on testosterone in men’s health, women also produce a small amount of testosterone in their ovaries. Low levels of testosterone in women can lead to low sex drive and brittle bones.
Keep reading to learn about the connection between alcohol and your testosterone levels.
There are three glands needed for the production of testosterone in men: the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, and the testes.
- Your hypothalamus releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which acts on your anterior pituitary gland.
- Your anterior pituitary gland then releases luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
- In response to LH and FSH, your testes then synthesize testosterone.
Alcohol can disrupt testosterone production by interfering with all three glands.
Long-term effects of alcohol on testosterone
Heavy drinkers are more likely to have poor testicular function than people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol.
Heavy drinking is usually considered more than 15 drinks a week for men or more than eight drinks a week for women.
Men who drink heavily are more likely to experience:
- erectile dysfunction
- low testosterone levels
- low libido
It’s thought chronic alcohol misuse damages the Leydig cells in your testes, which are responsible for testosterone production. Alcohol may also interfere with the release of LH, FSH, and GnRH.
Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t seem to have long-term effects on reproductive health or testosterone levels.
Moderate alcohol consumption is usually defined as no more than one drink for women or two drinks for men in a single day.
Short-term effects of alcohol on testosterone
It’s thought that acute alcohol consumption can cause short-term impairments in testosterone release by negatively affecting your hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
The healthy men’s testosterone levels began dropping by the third day and reached similar levels to those of the men with alcoholism by the end of the month.
Alcohol impairs the function of Sertoli cells in your testes. These cells are needed for sperm maturation.
The development of sperm is called spermatogenesis. Both testosterone and FSH play a role in spermatogenesis.
Disruptions to these hormones can lead to spermatogenic arrest. Spermatogenic arrest is an interrupted development of sperm that can lead to low sperm concentration in semen.
Studies have found that
They also found that men who drank heavily had slightly but significantly smaller testicles than men who didn’t.
Although it’s commonly known that women shouldn’t drink while pregnant, some research suggests that men who drink heavily before fertilization may also put their future baby at a heightened risk for developing birth defects.
Symptoms of low testosterone in adult men include:
Quitting alcohol can help reverse some of the damage to your brain and testes.
However, depending on how much and how long you’ve been drinking, recovery can take months or years. Some damage may be permanent.
More research is needed on human subjects to better understand the extent that the human reproductive system can heal itself.
Adopting an overall healthy lifestyle can help support your recovery. Avoiding junk food, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep can all help you maintain optimal hormone levels.
People with a history of alcohol misuse are at a heightened risk for developing low testosterone. Continuing to drink heavily while undergoing testosterone replacement therapy may undermine the treatment’s effectiveness.
Many doctors recommend limiting or quitting alcohol while taking testosterone.
If you believe that your drinking is affecting your testosterone levels or reproductive health, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
Your doctor can recommend the best treatment options for your low testosterone levels and your alcohol dependence.
Heavy alcohol consumption can lower your testosterone levels and impair your fertility.
Heavy drinking for men is generally considered to be more than 15 drinks per week.
Quitting alcohol or lowering your alcohol intake to a safe level may help reverse some of the damage caused by chronic drinking.