Alcohol abuse in women linked to fertility problems

Researchers studying Australian groups of twins have established a link between heavy alcohol use and delayed pregnancy, in findings to be published in the journal ‘Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research’.

Mary Waldron, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and corresponding author of the research, wrote that this was the first study to look at the affect of alcohol on fertility. Both men and women were studied, but alcohol was found to have more effect on women’s fertility, with incidents expected to increase due to the higher rates of alcohol abuse currently seen in the young female population.

Some experts voiced caution, as the correlation between alcohol abuse and later onset of pregnancy could relate to the fact that alcoholic women have more relationship issues which cause them to have children later, rather than the effect of alcohol on fertility. However, other experts still stressed the fact that even small amounts of alcohol could affect fertility, because reproductive hormones rely on cholesterol made by the liver. Steve Hillier, Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology, University of Edinburgh, urged that the study results be treated cautiously, but that, ‘if nothing else they are valuable in alerting us to the potentially deleterious impact of alcohol abuse on the female reproductive system’.

The study authors have warned women to consider the impact alcohol might have on their efforts to conceive, and that women attempting to become pregnant should consider not drinking at all. Mary Waldron cautioned, ‘young women who drink alcohol may want to consider the long-term consequences for later childbearing. If drinking continues to increase to levels of problem use, their opportunity to have children may be impaired’.

Sharon Wilsnack, co-author of the study and professor of clinical neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences, warned that women already experiencing fertility problems should not use alcohol as a way to cope with the stress they might feel as a result of those problems. She said that, ‘alcohol would likely make the reproductive problems worse as well as carrying risks of possible alcohol abuse or dependence’.

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