Couples having difficulty conceiving may want to skip one item that is ordinarily considered helpful to the process—alcohol—at least if they are using in-vitro fertilization (IVF). A new study of 2,574 couples undergoing 5,363 IVF cycles between 1994 and 2003 found that couples in which both partners drank four or more alcoholic beverages per week decreased their chances of having a live birth by 26%.
If only the woman reported drinking that amount or greater, the odds of a successful pregnancy fell by 16%; if the man was the one imbibing at that level, the odds fell 14%. The researchers adjusted the data to account for other factors like age and obesity which can significantly affect fertility.
The type of alcohol also seemed to matter: for women, white wine caused the most problems, cutting the live birth rate by 24%. For men, the culprit was beer, which reduced the chances of pregnancy success by 30%. Very few couples reported consuming hard liquor at these levels—so it’s hard to know what effect that had.
Given that the worst outcomes were for the type of alcohol most likely to be consumed by each gender, it’s possible that the couples who were drinking most heavily under-reported their use, making the effects of lower levels of drinking look worse than they are. However, the study’s lead author, Brooke Rossi, MD, a clinical fellow in reproductive endocrinology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston notes that these effects were seen at a level below that considered as moderate drinking by national guidelines.
“It comes down to this,” says Rossi, “There are many factors in an IVF cycle that contribute to success or failure. Most of these, patients have no control over, like age. But one thing you can control is alcohol intake. You can decrease or stop alcohol consumption, knowing that you are going to have to do it anyway if you do get pregnant and it may increase the chances of success in IVF cycle.”
The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, held last week in Atlanta.