Drinking and IVF

Our patients ask us all the time if they should stop drinking during fertility treatments (IVF and IUIs) and the answer is absolutely yes, even moderate drinking (1 to 2 drinks per night).  Even a small amount of alcohol can have a negative impact on follicular development and quality. So that glass of “stress relief” is actually going to cause you more disappointment in the long run.  

Our body treats alcohol as a toxin and because we don’t want to store poison, we call upon the liver to remove it.  Alcohol is absorbed mostly in the stomach (20%) and small intestine into our bloodstream. Our liver creates an enzyme to break down the alcohol into different chemicals that our body can breakdown and remove.  When we drink more than our liver’s ability to breakdown alcohol, we start feeling the effects of drinking. Any unmetabolized alcohol passes through our urine and skin (through sweat) (Legg and CRNP).  

Alcohol dampens processes in our body by affecting neurotransmitters (signals from our brain to our body).  It also requires the liver to work rapidly to remove the poison in our bloodstream. The metabolic breakdown of alcohol produces inflammation in our body (alcohol is broken down into acid and carbon dioxide) (The Science of Alcohol: How Booze Affects Your Body).  Under these conditions it also has a negative effect during the IVF process.  A study conducted in 2011 by Obstetrics and Gynecology Journal on 2,455 couples undergoing IVF showed that even drinking four drinks per week can reduce the live birth rate for women by 16%.  Woman who drank had lower estrogen levels than woman who abstained. According to this study, woman who drank more than 4 drinks per week had a higher failed fertilization rate by 48% than those who didn’t drink.

Abstaining isn’t just important for woman, male partners should also cut back or stop drinking if couples want better results with IVF.  The same study showed that couples who both drank four drinks a week saw a live birth rate 21% lower than couples who didn’t drink. Men who drank a beer daily had a 35% lower odd of having a live birth (Rossi et al.).

Another study conducted by Fertility and Sterility showed that each additional drink a woman consumes during IVR resulted in a 13% decrease in follicles retrieved.  With male consumption, each additional drink per day resulted in a 2 to 8 times more likelihood of miscarriage (ScienceDirect).

IVF is a difficult journey physically, financially and emotionally without a guarantee of success.  There is no magic shot or pill to guarantee success for any couple undergoing reproductive treatments.  Many times I describe the journey as you against the odds so if you can improve those odds simply by cutting out alcohol (something you have to cut out eventually when you conceive), you should absolutely stop drinking.  If having a glass of wine or a cocktail after a long week is an integral part of your unwinding process, consider exploring other options to manage stress such as acupuncture, yoga or meditation. If participating in social activities prevent you from going dry, consider telling a few close and trustworthy friends what you are going through and have them be your advocate to select activities where getting a drink isn’t in the forefront.  Finally train yourself to swap out reaching for the glass of wine to something else such as seltzer or tea. It sounds silly but many times it’s just the physical habit of reaching for the cabernet that immediately triggers a relaxation process. Finally shut out the people who chirp “well [Blank] got pregnant drinking a bottle of wine a night and eating ice cream.” Yes that happens but medical outcomes varies immensely person to person.  Think about why you may not get sick but the person who sits next to you eight hours a day will be on his or her deathbed for a week. That doesn’t mean you can stop washing your hands for the rest of your life.

References

Legg, Timothy J., and CRNP. “How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?” Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319942.php. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.

Rossi, Brooke V., et al. “Effect of Alcohol Consumption on In Vitro Fertilization.” Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol. 117, no. 1, 2011, pp. 136–42.

ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001502820204582X. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.

The Science of Alcohol: How Booze Affects Your Body. http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/30350860/the-science-of-alcohol-how-booze-affects-your-body. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.