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How alcohol affects female fertility

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Alcohol

Alcohol

*Women at higher risk of alcoholic liver disease than men
*Moderate drinking reduces frailty, heart disease for seniors
*Effects of smoking on reducing calorie intake revealed

Although abstinence from alcohol is widely recommended when trying to become pregnant, its exact implications for a woman’s fertility are not known. A new study published in The BMJ charts the interaction in new detail.

Because drinking alcohol is a pervasive part of modern life, its impact on fertility is of great interest.

More than one drink per day during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and preterm birth.

However, although alcohol is known to influence male and female reproductive systems and the unborn fetus, its influence on fertility is not well understood.

Also, researchers say moderate alcohol consumption may have health benefits for seniors by reducing inflammation.

Published in the journal Age and Ageing, the report says there is increasing evidence that moderate alcohol consumption leads to such benefits by reducing inflammation, as determined by levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) – a pro-inflammatory marker.

According to co-author Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, of the United States National Institute on Aging – part of the National Institutes of Health – and colleagues, previous studies have suggested that levels of inflammation increase as we age, and that it is this that contributes to age-related frailty and illness.

Official guidelines in the United Kingdom, United States, and a number of other countries recommend that couples abstain from alcohol when attempting to become pregnant.

Although cutting out alcohol when trying to conceive is a sensible recommendation, the association between pre-conception alcohol intake and the time taken to become pregnant has not been documented in great detail.

To date, findings from studies investigating the impact of alcohol on female fertility have been contradictory; some link decreases in fertility with low to moderate alcohol consumption, some showed no correlation, and others still reported a slight increase in fertility.

A team of Danish researchers designed a prospective cohort study to re-examine this association.

The team used data from 6,120 females aged 21 to 45. All participants were in stable relationships and actively trying to become pregnant. None were involved in fertility treatments.

Meanwhile, heavy drinking frequently causes liver inflammation and injury, and fatty acids (FAs) involved in pro- and anti-inflammatory responses could play a critical role in these processes. This study evaluated heavy drinking and changes in levels of omega-6 (ω-6, pro-inflammatory) and omega-3 (ω-3, anti-inflammatory) FAs in alcohol dependent (AD) patients who showed no clinical signs of liver injury.

The study by Research Society on Alcoholism titled, “Women at higher risk for alcoholic liver disease than men,” was published in ScienceDaily.

Researchers assigned 114 heavy drinking AD patients recruited from an AD treatment program to one of two groups based on the levels of a specific liver enzyme, alanine aminotransferase — ALT, elevated levels of which reflect liver injury. The patients were aged 21-65 years and showed no signs of liver injury. Patient group one (34 males, 24 females) had normal levels of ALT and patient group two (40 males, 16 females) had mildly elevated ALT levels.

Results indicated that changes in the ω-3 and ω-6 FA levels and the ω-6:ω-3 ratio reflected a pro-inflammatory shift in patients with elevated ALT — mild liver injury. At comparable levels of alcohol consumption, women in the study showed greater liver injury than men. The authors speculated that women may be at greater risk of developing alcoholic liver disease than men, even when consuming less alcohol.

Also, a study presented Monday (September 5, 2016) at this year’s European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress showed that smoking reduces calorie intake, possibly modulated by its effect on levels of the hormone ghrelin (also known as the hunger hormone). The study was conducted by Dr. Konstantina Zachari and colleagues, Harokopio University Athens, Greece, in collaboration with Athens Medical School Greece.

Smoking and its cessation are related to weight change. Those who manage to stop smoking increase their weight, while current smokers are less likely to be obese than non-smokers. Adolescents, mainly girls, may start and continue smoking for body weight management. The belief though that smoking regulates body weight follows adolescent smokers into their adulthood. For example, when post cessation weight gain (PSCWG — with a mean weight gain pf around 10kg over five years), is one important factor that demotivates people, mainly women, to quit smoking and is a common reason to relapse. Until now, confusing results about the related hormones and mechanisms involved were available. Increased food intake and Post Cessation Basic Metabolic Rhythm (ΒΜR) may be involved. Therefore, PSCWG is a very important factor that has to be addressed in order to increase quitting rates and lower relapse rates.

Zacchari concluded: “In our small study, we found that smoking had an acute effect on energy intake that could be mediated by alterations in ghrelin levels. Further research is needed to investigate whether these results would be duplicated in a broader study population. We also need to investigate other potential biological mediators and ways to balance post-cessation weight gain in order to achieve higher smoking cessation rates and lower relapse rates.”

Meanwhile, alcohol was measured in standard servings – one to three, four to seven, eight to 13, and 14 or more units per week; they also collated information about the specific type of alcohol – beer, red or white wine, dessert wine, or spirits.


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