New Delhi, Oct. 28: Addiction to alcohol can impair the sex life and the sperm quality in otherwise healthy men, according to a new study by Indian scientists.
Biochemist Koonakapalyam Ramasami Muthusami in Coimbatore has found that chronic alcoholism reduces the level of testosterone, the hormone synthesised in the testes that helps maintain sex drive and erection frequency.
His study, reported in the latest issue of the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, has also shown that addictive alcohol consumption can significantly reduce semen volume, sperm count and the proportion of structurally normal sperm.
While international studies have earlier revealed the harmful effects of alcohol on sperm, the Coimbatore study is significant because it focused on men highly addicted to alcohol but who were otherwise healthy.
“This study looked for exclusive and direct toxic effects of chronic alcoholism on the male reproductive system,” Muthusami, a senior scientist at the Institute of Laboratory Medicine at the Kovai Medical Centre in Coimbatore, told The Telegraph.
The researchers screened nearly 1,800 alcoholics just before they joined a de-addiction centre and picked 66 non-smokers who had no health complaints. All the other men had symptoms of alcoholism such as high blood pressure or abnormal liver functions.
Each of the 66 men had consumed a minimum of 180 ml alcohol ' whisky or brandy, with 40 per cent alcohol content ' five times a week for at least a year but up to 11 years before they sought de-addiction therapy.
The doctors compared medical histories and semen samples of these 66 men with 30 healthy non-smoking and non-drinking men. The study showed that testosterone levels in chronic alcoholics was significantly lower than in the non-drinkers.
The medical histories of the men revealed that more than 60 per cent had erectile dysfunction but less than 10 per cent of the non-drinkers had this problem, Muthusami said.
Spermatozoa need high motility to be able to penetrate and fertilise an ovum, or egg. The study has shown that the chronic alcoholics had about 50 per cent less motile sperm than the non-drinkers.
The lower testosterone and their relatively poor quality sperm would mean that such men have lower chances of having children.
“These were highly addicted alcoholics. They couldn’t do without their drinks. Some of them had taken alcohol every single day for several years. Fortunately, most drinkers do not have such habits,” Muthusami said.
The alcoholic men displayed higher levels of two other hormones ' the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and the leutinising hormone (LH) ' secreted by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.
“As the alcohol reduces testosterone levels, a compensatory mechanism gets activated in the body which leads to excess secretion of FSH and LH,” Muthusami said.