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Dr. John Rinehart, MD at Reproductive Medicine Institute

Dr. John Rinehart discusses the effects of coffee and alcohol on infertility.

In my practice, I observe many people looking to increase their chance for pregnancy by eliminating things in their daily lives that they have seen to be linked to infertility. The vast amount of data that is available today has made it possible to link almost anything to…anything!  Consider these ‘gems’. If you search for bizarre correlations you can find the following: ‘ice cream consumption leads to murder’; ‘a pirate shortage caused global warming’; ‘living in a poor country increases penis size’; ‘eating organic food causes autism’ et cetera.

So, when someone says that coffee consumption increases infertility or that alcohol consumption increase infertility, the question that arises is REALLY? Consider the boomer generation. Their parents smoked, drank, consumed coffee like there was no tomorrow, and relied heavily on prescription medicine for sleeping (Seconal) or staying awake. Admittedly the boomers are a strange lot, but they got here. So, when advice is given to stop drinking coffee or alcohol, the appropriate cheeky response is, Prove it!

I’ll Drink to That!

A recently published article did address the issue of mild to moderate alcohol consumption and infertility. (Lyhgso et al Hum Reprod 2019; 34:1334) The study asked the question: ‘Does female weekly alcohol intake and binge drinking impact the chance of a successful infertility treatment?’ The study prospectively gathered information about the alcohol consumption of 1,708 women and their partners undergoing fertility treatment. The outcome was the achievement of a clinical pregnancy and live birth. By knowing both the clinical pregnancy rate and the live birth rate, it is possible to determine if there was an increase in miscarriage rates based upon amount of alcohol consumed. The study found ‘low to moderate average weekly alcohol intake was not statistically significantly associated with the chance of achieving a clinical pregnancy or a live birth’. The study divided that amount of alcohol consumed per week into none, 1-2 (alcoholic drinks), 3-7, and > 7 drinks. The chance for conception and live birth using either IUI or IVF was the same for all groups. Furthermore, the chance for achieving a clinical pregnancy or live births was unrelated to the number of binge drinking episodes. The conclusion from the authors was that the results of their study suggest that it is not necessary to abstain from drinking alcohol when undergoing fertility treatments. Putting this into perspective; once pregnant there is ample evidence that heavy alcohol consumption can harm the developing pregnancy. So, the advice to abstain from heavy alcohol consumption while pregnant is appropriate. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines state that all alcohol types are harmful to an established pregnancy even potentially in the early weeks of pregnancy.

While all of this is fascinating, how does it help people trying to conceive? The most important lesson is that total abstinence while in treatment for infertility is unnecessary. There is no harm to having an occasional drink while undergoing infertility treatments. However, once there is a possibility of being pregnant, alcohol consumption should be avoided.

Give Me My Coffee!

What about coffee? Who doesn’t need that morning Joe to start the day?  Americans drink an average of 2.1 cups of coffee per day. But does that morning cup of coffee decrease the chance for achieving a pregnancy if a person is in treatment for infertility? In a different publication from the same group that did the alcohol study, the authors evaluated the impact of coffee upon the success of infertility treatments. The authors found that for women undergoing IVF, coffee consumption did not affect the chance of achieving a clinical pregnancy or live birth. Good news! Women using IUI and consuming 1-5 cups of coffee a day had an INCREASED chance of achieving a clinical pregnancy and live birth. So, for all of those people suffering a severe morning headache and lethargy, go back to your coffee.

One guiding principle for people undergoing infertility when trying to determine if something is affecting their chance for achieving a pregnancy is to ask: ‘If I do this, whatever it is, and I don’t get pregnant, in 10 years will I be sorry for doing whatever it is?; If the answer is yes or I don’t know, then why torture yourself with a lifetime of guilt? Infertility has enough stress. If you need that occasional drink or your morning or afternoon coffee, don’t add to your stress level by depriving yourself of these simple pleasures simply because The University of Google says it is harmful. The evidence says otherwise.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. John Rinehart, contact RMI’s locations in Bloomingdale, Oak Lawn, or Evanston. To schedule, an appointment at any other of RMI’s convenient Chicagoland locations contacts the offices of Northbrook, Chicago, Oak Brook, or Elmhurst. You can reach a member of the RMI team at 630-954-0054 or send a message here.

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