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Few Americans can count themselves "viceless." Whether it's having a glass or two of wine with dinner, or a midday cigarette break, or even a couple of cups of coffee to get going in the morning, the majority of us indulge in at least one less-than-healthy pleasure. And for the most part, the effects of that occasional indulgence are of little consequence. But for couples trying to achieve pregnancy, many of these lifestyle choices can make getting pregnant much more difficult.
Achieving a healthy pregnancy is one of the most natural processes the human body goes through. Yet, it is also one of the most complex and, at times, elusive. It's precisely because of the intricacy of the process, and the delicate balance of hormones and timing involved, that we need to take a hard look at lifestyle as a key factor in infertility.
The common denominator for all of these vices is that each one has some kind of effect on the reproductive system, whether at the glandular or organic levels. Much research has been done in this area over the past decade and the news can be quite sobering. Following is information and advice on the "Big Four" vices that can contribute to infertility:
--RECREATIONAL DRUGS: Recreational drug use should be stopped for men or for women while attempting pregnancy. In men, cocaine use has been found to lower sperm counts and reduce the sperms' motility, while increasing the number of abnormal sperm. Also for men, a chemical called THC in marijuana has been shown to lower sperm counts and reduce the amount of seminal fluid, both of which are detrimental to achieving pregnancy. In women, marijuana may arrest the ovulation process and suppress the hypothalamus gland, which regulates hormone function. And cocaine use prior to conception may be linked to a higher risk of birth defects. What's more, it can take the body months to fully rid itself of residual drugs, so the best thing to do for fertility is to stop recreational drug use as soon as a couple has decided to become pregnant.
-- SMOKING CIGARETTES: Women who want to become pregnant should quit smoking, because the compounds in cigarette smoke have been linked to primary infertility. A recent study found that the compounds in cigarette smoke affect the ovaries, disrupt endocrine function and proper pituitary hormone release, and may contribute to irregular periods, infertility and early menopause. Earlier research identified cigarette smoke as a risk factor for primary fallopian tube infertility. Cigarette smoking is a vice that can affect not only a patient's ability to achieve a healthy pregnancy, but also to carry that pregnancy to term. And, it can have long-term health consequences for mother and baby. The best advice is to talk with your doctor about how best to quit prior to attempting conception.
-- COFFEE: Caffeine makes conception more difficult, even for fertile women, and studies now suggest that even one cup of coffee per day can reduce a woman's chances of getting pregnant within a 12-month period by more than 50%. Three cups of day, and The odds drop by more than 175% with three cups of coffee per day. In addition, there is evidence that caffeine consumption among smokers is even more detrimental for fertility. Although the caffeine debate is far from settled, I encourage patients to stay on the safe side and drink plenty of water and other decaffeinated beverages while trying to get pregnant.
-- ALCOHOL: Alcohol is a depressant that works on sperm as well as on eggs. From low sperm counts and temporary impotence in men, to disruption of the ovulatory and menstrual cycles in women, to an overall depression of libido for both sexes, alcohol has a suppressive effect on fertility. And the effects are noted for moderate as well as heavy drinkers. Best bet: Abstain until delivery.
It is estimated by the National Institutes of Health that infertility affects approximately 10% of all couples of childbearing age. We encourage couples who have tried for at least 12 months to achieve pregnancy without success -- or six months if the woman is over age 35 -- to contact a reproductive medicine specialist for assistance.
By Mark Leondires, MD, Medical Director at Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT