Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may damage semen quality in sons

Mothers who drink alcohol while they are pregnant may be damaging the fertility of their future sons, according to new research to be presented at the 26th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome today (Tuesday 29 June).

Doctors in Denmark found that if mothers had drunk 4.5 or more drinks a week while pregnant, then the sperm concentration of their sons, measured about 20 years later, was a third lower in comparison to men who were not exposed to alcohol while in the womb. A drink was measured as 12 grams of alcohol, which is the equivalent to one 330 ml beer, one small (120 ml) glass of wine or one glass of spirits (40 ml).

Dr Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen, senior researcher at the Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital (Denmark) and clinical associate professor at the Department of Epidemiology, Institute of Public Health, University of Aarhus, told a news briefing: "Our study shows that there is an association between drinking a moderate amount of alcohol (about four to five drinks a week) during pregnancy and lower sperm concentrations in sons. However, because this is an observational study we cannot say for certain that the alcohol causes the lower sperm concentrations. It is possible that drinking alcohol during pregnancy has a harmful effect on the foetal semen-producing tissue in the testes – and thereby on semen quality in later life – but our study is the first of its kind, and more research within this area is needed before any causal link can be established or safe drinking limits proposed."

Dr Ramlau-Hansen and her colleagues studied 347 sons of 11,980 women with singleton pregnancies who were recruited to the Danish "Healthy habits for two" study between 1984-1987. Around the 36th week of pregnancy the mothers answered a questionnaire on lifestyles and health. The sons were followed up between 2005-2006, when they were aged between 18-21, and semen and blood samples were collected and analysed.

The researchers divided the sons into four groups, ranging from those who were least exposed to alcohol (their mothers had drunk less than one drink a week) – and this was the reference group against which the other groups were measured – to those whose mothers drank 1-1.5 drinks a week, 2-4 drinks a week, or 4.5 or more drinks per week.

They found that sons of mothers drinking 4.5 or more alcoholic drinks a week had average sperm concentrations of 25 million per millilitre, while the sons who were least exposed to alcohol had sperm concentrations of 40 million/ml. After adjusting for various confounding factors, they found the sons in the group most exposed to alcohol had an average sperm concentration that was approximately 32% lower than that in the least exposed group.

The World Health Organization defines a "normal" level of sperm concentration as being approximately 20 million/ml or more. Dr Ramlau-Hansen said: "The reduced sperm concentrations in the most exposed men are rather close to the lower end of the WHO's normal range for fertility. The probability of conception increases with increased sperm concentration up to 40 million/ml and so it is possible that the most exposed men could be less fertile than the least exposed."

She found that semen volume and total sperm count (which also affect a man's fertility) were associated with prenatal alcohol exposure; these were highest in sons whose mothers drank 1-1.5 drinks a week. The researchers could find no association between alcohol exposure and the movement and shape of the sperm or with any reproductive hormones such as testosterone.

Dr Ramlau-Hansen said: "Our finding that sons prenatally exposed to 1-1.5 drinks per week had higher semen volume and total sperm count compared to the least exposed group is not surprising and is quite a common finding when studying alcohol. It could indicate that small amounts of alcohol have a beneficial effect (for example, on the semen-producing tissue in the foetal testes), but, in fact, we believe this result may be biased by the characteristics of the women drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy or by inaccurate reporting of alcohol consumption. Therefore, it is not possible to draw a firm conclusion from this result."

The researchers also investigated whether fathers' alcohol consumption had any effect. "We investigated the association between fathers' total alcohol intake and semen quality in the sons and found that paternal alcohol was not associated with semen volume or sperm concentration. This finding suggests that the observed associations between maternal alcohol consumption and sons' semen quality are not confounded by lifestyle factors that are shared by a couple, such as smoking," said Dr Ramlau-Hansen.

She concluded: "If further research shows that maternal alcohol consumption is a cause of reduced semen concentration in male offspring, then we are a bit closer to an explanation of why semen quality may have decreased during the last decades and why it differs between populations. If exposure to alcohol in foetal life causes poor semen quality in adult life, we would expect that populations with many pregnant women drinking, possibly heavily, in pregnancy would have lower fertility in comparison with populations of where pregnant women do not drink."

Emma Mason | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Strong, steady forces at work during cell division
20.10.2016 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Disturbance wanted
20.10.2016 | Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>