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New Study Says Men Should Quit Drinking at Least 3 Months Before Conceiving

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Texas A&M researchers said it takes much longer than previously believed for the effects of alcohol consumption to leave a man's sperm.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A new study shows that men who want to conceive a baby need to give up the booze months before.

Researchers at Texas A&M University have already shown that paternal drinking habits prior to conception can have a negative effect on fetal development. Semen from men who regularly consume alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which causes abnormal facial features, low birth weight and/or height, attention and hyperactivity issues and poor coordination.

The latest research by Dr. Michael Golding shows that it takes much longer than previously believed for the effects of alcohol consumption to leave the father’s sperm.

“When someone is consuming alcohol on a regular basis and then stops, their body goes through withdrawal, where it has to learn how to operate without the chemical present,” Golding explained. “What we discovered is that a father’s sperm are still negatively impacted by drinking even during the withdrawal process, meaning it takes much longer than we previously thought for the sperm to return to normal.”

Based on his research, Golding suggests that fathers abstain from alcohol at least three months prior to conceiving to be safe.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to get a hard answer, but we know that sperm are made over the course of 60 days, and the withdrawal process takes at least one month,” he said. “So, my estimate would be to wait at least three months.”

Dangers of paternal drinking

Currently, doctors are required to confirm only that the mother has consumed alcohol — not the father — to diagnose a child with FAS.

“For years, there’s really been no consideration of male alcohol use whatsoever,” Golding explained. “Within the last five to eight years, we’ve started to notice that there are certain conditions where there’s a very strong paternal influence when it comes to alcohol exposure and fetal development. With this project, we wanted to see how long it would take for the effects of alcohol on sperm to wear off. We thought it would be a relatively quick change back to normal, but it wasn’t. The withdrawal process took over a month.”

When drinking alcohol, an individual’s liver experiences oxidative stress, leading the body to overproduce certain chemicals, which then interrupt normal cellular activity. Golding’s team discovered that withdrawal causes the same kind of oxidative stress, effectively lengthening the duration of alcohol’s effects on the body beyond what was previously thought.

Changing The Narrative

Golding’s work changes the conversation about who is responsible for alcohol-related birth defects. Society has historically placed all the blame on mothers, even when they don't drink alcohol during their pregnancy.

“There’s psychological trauma associated with the question, ‘Did you drink while you were pregnant?’ It’s also difficult for physicians to have that conversation,” Golding said. “But if they don’t, then FAS doesn’t get diagnosed right away and the child may not get the support that they need until later in life.”

He said it’s crucial that couples trying to get pregnant know how far in advance to stop drinking in order to prevent birth defects.

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Schedule25 May 2024