alcohol and sperm health

There is no doubt that this subject is a contentious one.

We’ve tried to get to the bottom of the research and it’s fair to say it’s a bit of a mixed bag however there is more than enough evidence out there highlighting the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption on sperm to make you seriously question whether you should be drinking or not.

Nonetheless, many men are still confused about whether they can drink or not drink whilst trying to conceive.

The bottom line is if you’re a man trying to optimise your sperm health and give yourself the best chance of success, you need to pay attention to your alcohol intake.

Alcohol consumption in the UK

According to government data available here, alcohol amongst 15 to 49 year olds is the leading cause of ill health, disability and death.

They go on to say:

“to keep the risk from alcohol low, adults should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Alcohol adversely affects health in a range of ways and there is no definitive ‘safe’ lower limit – no level of regular alcohol consumption improves health.”

There is a heavy dependency on alcohol within our society with a huge amount of social pressure associated with its use. This makes things even more challenging for those who are struggling to conceive. Failure to have a drink often invites unwanted comments and judgement adding to the pressure to join in! But do you really need to be teetotal?

The effects of alcohol on the body

We all know that long term alcohol use isn’t good for our health. It’s as much about the length of time you have been drinking than it is the volume you drink.

Long-term alcohol consumption is associated with:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety
  • Memory problems and dementia

This list alone should be enough to scare anyone away from drinking yet so many of us still do it.

If this is what long-term alcohol use does for our body as a whole, what specific affects might it have on sperm health?

Alcohol and hormones

One of the big affects alcohol has on men is reducing the production of testosterone due to the impact alcohol has on the liver and its ability to metabolise vitamin A. 

Testosterone is a key player in the production of sperm but is also significant in protecting our long-term health. Testosterone in men is linked to hair growth, muscle mass, fat distribution and bone density. Hence, you can imagine the long-term effects lowered testosterone would have on our overall health. In terms of our sexual function, testosterone is incredibly important in terms of our libido and our ability to get and maintain an erection. Surely, we’ve all been there when we’ve had a few too many and things aren’t quite working as they should.

Another import role of testosterone is its role in the maturation and development of sperm cells. Long-term alcohol use is going to lead to a long-term decrease in testosterone which will impact sperm development.

Although the research is mixed, this study showed that increased alcohol consumption leads to an increase in abnormally shaped sperm which given what we’ve explained above makes an awful lot of sense. Further studies have also shown a link between alcohol and decrease in sperm concentration and motility.

Oxidative stress

If you’ve not heard of oxidative stress, you should check out our other news article on this here.

Oxidative stress is a key player in sperm health and is very closely linked to DNA fragmentation, recurrent failure to conceive and recurrent miscarriage.

Oxidative stress is all about keeping the balance between free radicals and antioxidants. When this balance goes out of kilter in either direction (i.e. too many free radicals or too little antioxidants) it will have a detrimental effect on sperm health. Yet, an excessive intake of antioxidants is also harmful as it also has detrimental effects in general and can lead to sperm damage in particular.

There is no doubt that alcohol is a pro-inflammatory substance which will cause all sorts of inflammation within the body, especially the gut and liver. An increase in inflammation will lead to an increase in oxidative stress leading to further damage to sperm quality.

As with all of this advice, it’s usually about moderation. You will find some evidence that suggests moderate alcohol consumption reduces inflammation i.e. that glass of nice red wine with dinner is good for the heart.

Your genetic material

The most common way of assessing sperm is through a standard semen analysis. This will look at concentration (count per millilitre), motility (ability to move) and morphology (shape) and is an easy assessment to make when carrying out research i.e. cheaper and quicker.

However, another important thing to consider with sperm is the genetic material that exists in the head of the sperm. This ultimately is the blueprint of your future child.

A study by Robins, Vine, Truong and Everson (1997) looked at chromosomal abnormalities in the head of sperm using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). When a cell is showing an abnormal chromosomal make up, this is known as aneuploidy and in the case of sperm may lead to abnormal development or death of an embryo. Their study revealed that alcohol was significantly associated with an increase in aneuploidy within sperm.

Interestingly, this piece of research in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine highlights the importance of preconception alcohol consumption in men and its association with fetal health outcomes and infant health. For a long time now, we’ve known about the effects of alcohol from the women’s perspective during pregnancy, but this review highlights the importance of sperm health and alcohol in relation to a baby’s health. This makes a lot of sense when you look at the aneuploidy research above. If the blueprint is wrong this can potentially be carried over to the health of the baby.

The wider impact of alcohol

Many of us are able to enjoy alcohol in a responsible way. However, alcohol is often associated with other less healthy habits. Seemingly, when you look at the research it tends to get lumped in with caffeine and tobacco which seems a little unfair. Nonetheless, alcohol consumption does often go hand in hand with other less favourable things such as late nights, poor sleep, low mood, lack of exercise and poor food choices.

Just to highlight, this isn’t true of everyone, however, for many who are drinking regularly, and maybe a little more than they should, it will definitely impact their choices around other factors which will affect their health.

Male fertility is always multi-factorial. So, there are a lot of things to consider. Alcohol consumption alone won’t be the deal breaker (unless you’re seriously drinking more than you should), but if it’s affecting other aspects of your life and health choices, then these are all going to add up to having a detrimental affect on your sperm health.

Recommended guidance on alcohol consumption

Just to reiterate what was said on the website. There is no level of regular alcohol consumption that is good for your health. However, for a lot of people alcohol is something they enjoy and can be a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day or week.

For many who are trying to conceive, they already feel like life is passing them by and they’re missing out on so many things. Having to cut out alcohol and limit their socialising can be really hard. Feeling like something is being taken away, often feels like a punishment whereas making an active choice for the right reasons may feel a bit more empowering.

To keep health risks (and the risk of failure to father a child) to a low level, it is safest to not drink more than 14 units per week. For those who are drinking closer to 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over 3 days or more. Binge drinking should definitely be avoided.

What is a unit?

1 unit is equivalent to:

  • ½ pint of regular lager or beer
  • 1 small glass of wine
  • 1 single measure of spirits

What about alcohol-free beer?

Well amazingly things look pretty positive in this camp. According to the law, alcohol-free beer must not contain more than 0.05% alcohol, while de-alcoholised not more than 0.5%. There should probably still be a word of caution that downing 10 pints of alcohol-free beer may be detrimental to you in some way but again moderate alcohol-free beer intake won’t be a problem.

In fact there is some research out there to show that alcohol-free beer has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, after all it’s a fermented drink and fermented foods are generally very good for our gut health and microbiome.

You should be able to enjoy an alcohol-free beer guilt free or perhaps even slightly smugly knowing that it’s got good qualities to it.


Depending on who you talk to, it’s quite likely you’re going to get mixed messages when it comes to alcohol and trying to conceive and this seems to be reflective of the research that is out there.

There is research that shows no correlation between alcohol and fertility outcomes, yet other research that shows negative outcomes on sperm health and importantly baby and infant health.

Our view is that there is enough evidence out there that strongly suggests alcohol is best avoided whilst trying to conceive. If you can avoid it, then that would be the ideal choice.

As is often the case, it’s usually about moderation and balance. There are also other socio / psychological factors that need to be taken into account. For many, a glass of wine with dinner is something to enjoy, yet for others they wouldn’t really miss it. For some, when they’re out with friends, they’d struggle to say no to having a drink. What’s important is that you make the decision that is right for you and you stick by it.

The occasional glass of wine or beer is unlikely to have a significant effect and may help you cope with the stresses and strains of trying to conceive. However, if you find yourself edging towards more consistent heavier drinking (above around 14 units per week) then it may be time to take note and ease off a little.

If you’re not sure where you are with your health and lifestyle choices, why not complete our free health questionnaire where we ask specifically about alcohol consumption so that you can make an informed decision about what you’re doing to improve your fertility.