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Alcohol may inhibit women’s ability to get pregnant, study finds

Researchers say women should avoid alcohol during ovulation if they want to conceive

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Several studies have identified the risks associated with women drinking alcohol while pregnant. Now, experts from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology explored how alcohol can impact women before they conceive. 

According to their findings, drinking alcohol can hinder a woman’s likelihood of getting pregnant if it’s done during an ovulation cycle. Because of this, they recommend that women actively trying to conceive should avoid heavy drinking

“We found that heavy drinking during any phase of the menstrual cycle was significantly associated with a reduced possibility of conception compared to non-drinkers,” said researcher Dr. Kira Taylor. “This is important because some women who are trying to conceive might believe it is ‘safe’ to drink during certain parts of the menstrual cycle.”  

How alcohol affects conception

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 400 women between the ages of 19 and 41 that were enrolled in the Mount Sinai Study of Women Office Workers. Over the course of 19 menstrual cycles, the women provided monthly urine samples and reported daily on their alcohol intake. 

The researchers learned that women who had more than six drinks per week during their menstrual cycles, which was defined as “heavy drinking,” were less likely to conceive than women who weren’t drinkers. However, the study showed that it wasn’t just heavy drinking that impacted the likelihood of conception; moderate drinkers -- who had between three and six drinks per week -- also had a lower chance of getting pregnant. 

“During the luteal phase, which is the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle before bleeding would start and when the process of implantation occurs, not only heavy drinking, but also moderate drinking was significantly associated with a reduced possibility of conception,” Taylor said. “At the time of ovulation, usually around day 14 of the cycle, consuming a lot of alcohol -- either heavy or binge drinking -- was significantly associated with reduced chances of conception.” 

Binge drinking -- which is having four or more drinks in one day -- during any point in the menstrual cycle also reduced the likelihood of pregnancy; however, binge drinking during ovulation was linked with the lowest chances of conception. 

“If we assume that a typical, healthy, non-drinking woman in the general population who is trying to conceive has approximately a 25% chance of conceiving during one menstrual cycle, then out of 100 women approximately 25 non-drinkers would conceive in a particular cycle, about 20 moderate drinkers would conceive, and only about 11 heavy drinkers would conceive,” said Taylor. “But the effect of moderate drinking during the luteal phase is more pronounced and only about 16 moderate drinkers would conceive.

The researchers noted that their study was limited in scope, but that their findings could be immensely important to women who are looking to have children.“Our study only included a few hundred women and, while we believe the results strongly suggest that heavy and even moderate alcohol intake affects the ability to conceive, the exact percentages and numbers should be viewed as rough estimates,” Taylor said. 

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