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Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol is a known teratogen and its consumption has been reported to decrease fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage, although the level associated with risk is unclear. Alcohol consumption at extreme levels is known to be dangerous to the unborn child, but the effect at lower levels is less certain. However, levels as low as one drink per week have also been associated with reduced conception rates.  The most vulnerable time for the unborn child is the first few weeks after conception, when often the pregnancy has not yet been detected.

WHO findings have established that even small to moderate doses of alcohol during pregnancy may have an impact on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.

Heavy drinking can reduce the quality and quantity of sperm. Heavy consumption of alcohol affects hormone levels, in particular testosterone levels. It also affects the ability of testes to mature the sperm properly. This leads to poor semen quality, but the effect is reversible, so cutting down on alcohol over several months can improve sperm quality.  In men, alcohol consumption has been linked to testicular atrophy, decreased libido and decreased sperm count, volume and quality.

In women, amounts of alcohol ranging from one drink a week to five units per day can have various effects including anovulation, luteal phase dysfunction, delayed conception, abnormal blastocyst formation, risk of spontaneous abortion and foetal death.

Current evidence is inconclusive regarding what dose of alcohol may be safe to consume prior to and during pregnancy, making it difficult to predict the risk. With this understanding, the safest measure to take is to avoid all alcohol during, or when planning, a pregnancy.

As eggs and sperm take 80-100 days to develop, allow four months for alcohol to leave your system before trying to conceive.

Be cautious with prescription medications. Calcium channel blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-androgens and various other medications can contribute to fertility issues. Anabolic steroids are particularly effective at closing down sperm production.   Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatment for cancer can cause permanent infertility. If you're considering medications, ask your doctor about the impact on your fertility — or the possibility of retrieving and storing sperm before treatment.

Recreational Drugs

Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs around the world and acts both centrally and peripherally to cause abnormal reproductive function.

In males, cannabinoids have been reported to reduce testosterone, inhibit sperm production, cause sperm to be misshapen, decrease spermatogenesis and decrease sperm motility.  In women, use of marijuana can negatively impact hormonal regulation and affect the egg and embryo movement through the oviducts.  Marijuana and its cannabinoids have been reported to negatively impact placental and foetal development. 

Cocaine and heroin also interfere with healthy sperm.  The effect of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine (‘P’) is less known.