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Alcohol can damage sperm

Alcohol consumption by pregnant women is already the leading cause of non-genetic mental retardation in the unborn child
Alcohol consumption by pregnant women is already the leading cause of non-genetic mental retardation in the unborn child

The decrease in sperm count seen in men, in Europe and the United States in recent decades could be due, at least in part, to exposure to alcohol in utero.

In a study published recently in the journal Human Reproduction, Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen and colleagues at the University Hospital of Aarhus (Denmark) show that men whose mothers drank more than one drink per day during pregnancy have sperm production reduced by one third, and the effects are already noticeable after only two drinks per week, or 24 grams of alcohol. This is the first time such a link is highlighted. Remember that alcohol consumption by pregnant women is already the leading cause of non-genetic mental retardation in the unborn child.

In 1992, two Danish researchers, Niels Skakkebaek and Elisabeth Carlsen, first reported to health authorities of their country's steady decline for several generations, the production of sperm from their compatriots. As noted at the same time an increase in developmental abnormalities of male genitalia and testicular cancer, suspicion directed towards environmental factors, including exposure to certain chemical compounds - so called endocrine disruptors.

Denmark was quickly pointed to research in this area. For several reasons. At that time the country was already facing a significant decline in the fertility of couples. Denmark had, in fact, the European record of births obtained by in vitro fertilization (IVF). Then, the possibility for Danish scientists to consult the medical records of all patients hospitalized since 1977 has allowed them to perform powerful statistical studies over several generations.

The surveys of pregnant women's team at the Niels Skakkebaek of Rigshospitalet Copenhagen first showed the deleterious effect of maternal smoking on fertility in women, and doubled if women were also smokers. In 2007, Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen and colleagues reported a reduction of almost 20% of the sperm concentration of men who have been exposed in utero to their mothers smoke. Finally, a recent Danish study, bringing an exceptional human embryos less than a quarter from abortion, revealed a collapse of the stock of reproductive cells in the genitals of both sexes, because of exposure to tobacco in utero.

These proven effects of tobacco, and now suspected for alcohol are even more worrying that many women continue to smoke or drink occasionally during pregnancy. Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen believes that we must go further because "even if it is too early to establish a direct causal link, our study reinforces the idea that alcohol should absolutely be avoided by pregnant women, and even any woman who intends to be, because when she discovered her pregnancy she may already have an embryo of several weeks."


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