Caffeine and fertility

An article about recent scientific research into the effect of caffeine on male and female fertility. Published in IVF Friends Newsletter in April 2005.

Relaxing with a really nice cup of coffee is part of our collective psyche, which is a bit strange given that coffee is a stimulant. Until recently Iíve always suggested that coffee is not evil, itís just the amount that we drink. Not wanting my patients to feel deprived, I have told them that they donít need to give it up altogether, just keep it to a minimum. However, recent publicity about the effects of caffeine on fertility has placed a cloud over the humble cup of coffee. Past studies have failed to make the situation clear, with some showing no effect on fertility and others showing a significant impact. There is a researcher at Macquarie University in New South Wales, Dr Irene Pollard, who, for the past 20 years, has been studying the effects of caffeine on rats and their ability to reproduce. Her results seriously implicate caffeine as a contributing factor in infertility.

The Macquarie University website says: ĎPrevious studies have indicated that moderate caffeine intake - 150-300 mg (equivalent to one to two cups of strong coffee per day) - is an established risk factor in human fertility. Women who drank more than one strong cup of coffee per day were half as likely to conceive in any given menstrual cycle, compared to those who drank less than one cup per day. Those who consumed 2.5 cups per day were 4.7 times less likely to conceive.í

The recent research suggests that caffeine increases the risk of implantation failure. Other effects include:

- in embryos that do implant, their growth and development was adversely affected.

- Ďa significantly reduced maternal oestradiol concentration on day four (the time that the embryo enters the uterus prior to implantation) in the caffeine-exposed experimental animals.í

- because caffeine is a stressor, it stimulates the release of stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, which counteracts oestrogen and progesterone.

- the chemical structure of caffeine is similar to DNA and Dr Pollard suggests that it may interact with DNA in the embryo.

- whilst caffeine is not a teratogen (something that causes birth defects) it appears that it can interact with alcohol and nicotine and increase the toxic effects of these substances.

Caffeine also has an impact on sperm, especially when combined with smoking. When cells are dividing, they have a repair mechanism that fixes any error in DNA replication. Caffeine may interfere with this causing an increased number of abnormal chromosomes.

Many pregnant women consume caffeinated drinks and whilst we donít really know what long term effect this has, it obviously didnít cause implantation failure in those women. It may be that some people are more susceptible to caffeine than others.

Drinking coffee or alcohol, or even smoking may not be the direct cause of infertility, but anything that may contribute, even slightly, should be avoided to increase the chances of success as much as possible. My advice now is that if you havenít already given up caffeine, keeping it to an occasional, special treat when you are not on a treatment cycle allows you to enjoy a coffee with friends and reduces the negative impact on fertility.

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