Problem drinking may dampen both a man's sex life and his chances of having children, according to a new study.
Researchers in India found that men being treated for alcoholism had lower testosterone levels and more sperm abnormalities than non-drinkers did. They also had a far higher rate of erectile dysfunction (ED) — 71 percent, versus 7 percent of abstainers.
Some past studies have suggested that heavy drinking can take a toll on men's reproductive health. One recent study found that couples had a higher miscarriage risk if the man had consumed 10 or more drinks a week around the time of conception.
Also, it's known that alcoholic men can develop signs of low testosterone, including shrunken testicles and enlarged breasts.
The new findings add to evidence that heavy drinking, at least among alcoholics, may harm both men's sex lives and their fertility, according to the study authors, led by Dr. K. R. Muthusami of Kovai Medical Center and Hospital in Coimbatore, India.
"Men are advised to refrain from chronic alcohol consumption if they want to procreate and lead a normal sex life," the researchers conclude in the medical journal Fertility & Sterility.
On the other hand, it's unlikely that light drinking would have any significant effect on men's fertility, Muthusami told Reuters Health.
The study included 66 non-smoking men who had sought treatment for alcoholism, along with 30 non-smokers who had never consumed alcohol. On average, alcoholic men had a significantly lower sperm count, but more abnormal sperm, as well as lower testosterone levels and changes in other reproductive hormones.
According to the researchers, these findings likely reflect direct damage to the testicles caused by excessive alcohol. Alcohol, Muthusami said, enters the testicles directly and can both cut testosterone production and harm the quality of semen.
But the potential harm is not limited to men. Other studies, the researcher noted, have found heavy drinking to impair women's reproductive health as well.