Alcohol and Sperm Quality

Part of everyday life is enjoying a drink socially or when trying to relax after work. The occasional drink isn’t considered to be a problem for health, but like most things, overconsumption of alcohol can be damaging.

What counts as too much alcohol?

In 2016, 80 countries published national alcohol policies, while a further eight countries had regional policies and 11 others had a total ban on alcohol. In the World Health Organization’s “Global status report on alcohol and health” from 2018 [1], policies and recommendations on alcohol consumption can be found, but there is no global consensus on recommended maximum intake (or safe limits) of alcohol. Guidelines generally give recommended amounts measured in grams (g) of pure alcohol because of differences in the size of alcoholic drinks and different definitions of alcohol units worldwide.

The NHS in the UK recommends that men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units (24-32g) of alcohol per day and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units per day.  Both men and women should stay below 14 units/week (112g/week). A unit is 8 grams of pure alcohol according to the NHS [2].

In the USA, NIH recommended not to exceed more than 4 units/day (56g/day) and 14 units/week (196g/week), with a unit size of 14 grams of pure alcohol [3].

In Denmark, the national recommendation is that women should consume no more than 7 units (84g) per week and men no more than 14 (168g). In Denmark 1 unit of alcohol = 12g pure alcohol [4].

Two examples of standard drinks are: 1) a bottle of 330 ml beer at 4.6% or 2) a glass of 125 ml wine at 12%. Both examples equal 12 grams of pure alcohol = 1 unit.

At ExSeed health, we use the guidelines that a unit is equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol since it is the standard used in most studies. We recommend that no more than five units (60g) per sitting and a total of no more than 14 units (168g) per week – is deemed low risk for men. For men who drink regularly, this might be a good guideline to know when to ease off the bottle, both for better sperm and better health.

 What does the research show?

The medical community disagree on how much alcohol a man can drink without it having an impact on his sperm quality and fertility. Most of the studies show that maintaining a moderate consumption of no more than 2 drinks per day is safe.

Some clinical studies show that infertile patients belonging who drink daily have a semen quality and hormonal characteristics that is worse compared with patients who do not drink daily.

In a Danish study from 2014 with 1,221 male participants, it was found that consumption of more than 5 units in a typical week was associated negatively with sperm concentration, total sperm count, and percentage of sperm cells with standard shape (morphology) [6]. This link was most pronounced for men with a typical intake of more than 25 units/week.

One thing is for sure; chronic, excessive alcohol consumption (i.e. >5 units / >60g a day) negatively affects the health and following the guidelines of less than 14 units a week is a good start.

Alcohol’s effect on sperm

Some studies show that alcohol consumption is associated with a decrease in sample volume, motility and concentration. The percentage of healthy-looking sperm cells was also lower for men who are heavy drinkers compared to men of normal drinking habits [6].

Drinking may be associated to other habits of harm such as staying out for long nights, consuming a lot of high sugar drinks and smoking cigarettes.

So now what?

We get that it’s hard to avoid something that seems to be everywhere and is very much associated with your social life. We are not going to tell you to give up alcohol completely! However, keeping alcohol consumption on a moderate level – max 14 units per week and 5 per day.

Our Top 5 Tips:

  • Avoid triggers – people or situations where you normally would go for drinks
  • Eat food and drink water – this helps reduce the craving for alcohol
  • Count your drinks – keep track on how many units you drink to make sure that you don’t go above the recommended unit/week limit
  • Get rid of alcohol at home – keep the temptation away
  • Learn to say NO – practice taking control and be proud to politely say no thanks to alcohol and find other non-alcoholic alternatives to drink

Article bullets

  • Heavy (i.e. >60 g a day) or chronic alcohol consumption is shown to be associated with very low sperm count
  • Consumption of no more than 2 drinks per day is safe for sperm quality
  • Alcohol can affect total sperm count and percentage of morphologically normal spermatozoa
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