Starting a family? Men should avoid alcohol for 3 months before conceiving, study explains

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A drink today could harm a father-to-be’s children tomorrow, according to researchers from Texas A&M University studying the impact of alcohol consumption on fetal alcohol syndrome.

Prior studies conducted at Texas A&M have shown that a paternal drinking habit prior to conception may have a negative effect on fetal development. Semen from men who regularly consumed alcohol appeared to impact placenta development, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)-associated brain and facial defects, and even IVF outcomes. Now, this latest report builds on those findings, showing it takes far longer than previously believed (longer than a month) for the effects of alcohol consumption to vacate a father’s sperm.

“When someone is consuming alcohol on a regular basis and then stops, their body goes through withdrawal, where it has to learn how to operate without the chemical present,” says Dr. Michael Golding, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology, in a university release. “What we discovered is that a father’s sperm are still negatively impacted by drinking even during the withdrawal process, meaning it takes much longer than we previously thought for the sperm to return to normal.”

One of the biggest risks linked to alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy is FAS, which can cause abnormal facial features, low birth weight and/or height, attention and hyperactivity issues, and poor coordination. Today, doctors are only required to check if the mother has consumed alcohol in order to formally diagnose a child with FAS.

“For years, there’s really been no consideration of male alcohol use whatsoever,” Prof. Golding explains. “Within the last five to eight years, we’ve started to notice that there are certain conditions where there’s a very strong paternal influence when it comes to alcohol exposure and fetal development.”

“With this project, we wanted to see how long it would take for the effects of alcohol on sperm to wear off,” the doctor continues. “We thought it would be a relatively quick change back to normal, but it wasn’t. The withdrawal process took over a month.”

Dad holding baby at hospital
(© Colin –

When someone drinks alcohol, a person’s liver deals with oxidative stress, which leads the body to overproduce certain chemicals, which then interrupts normal cellular activity. The research team has now uncovered that withdrawal provokes the exact same kind of oxidative stress, essentially prolonging the duration of alcohol’s effects on the body beyond what scientists previously believed.

“During withdrawal, the liver experiences perpetual oxidative stress and sends a signal throughout the male body,” Prof. Golding says. “The reproductive system interprets that signal and says, ‘Oh, we are living in an environment that has a really strong oxidative stressor in it. I need to program the offspring to be able to adapt to that kind of environment.’”

However, Golding suspects that the changes to the sperm aren’t beneficial. Instead, they lead to problems like FAS. The study author also notes that one’s alcohol use doesn’t have to be excessive for a person to experience withdrawal.

“In the models we’re using, even drinking three to four beers after work several days a week can induce withdrawal when the behavior ceases,” Golding comments. “You may not feel inebriated, but your body is going through chemical changes.”

Prof. Golding’s research is key to improving pregnancy outcomes by changing the entire conversation regarding who is responsible for alcohol-related birth defects. Society has always historically placed the blame on mothers, even when they haven’t consumed alcohol during their pregnancy.

“There’s psychological trauma associated with the question, ‘Did you drink while you were pregnant?’ It’s also difficult for physicians to have that conversation,” the researcher adds. “But if they don’t, then FAS doesn’t get diagnosed right away and the child may not get the support that they need until later in life.”

With all of this in mind, couples planning on getting pregnant need to know how far in advance to stop drinking in order to prevent potential birth defects. Moving forward, Prof. Golding and his lab plan to continue their work focusing on the effects of paternal drinking. For now, given this groundbreaking discovery, he suggests fathers stop consuming alcohol at least three months prior to conceiving.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to get a hard answer, but we know that sperm are made over the course of 60 days, and the withdrawal process takes at least one month,” Golding concludes. “So, my estimate would be to wait at least three months.”

The study is published in the journal Andrology.

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John Anderer

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  1. I have many friends who have genetically messed up kids. Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and chemicals have all taken it’s toll on humanity.
    Vitamins, nutrients, minerals like iodine, for example, all have a beneficial effect on the future generations. A generous dose of iodine increases a child’s IQ by 20% over the parents. Good quality people are having almost no children. In my neighborhood, low lifes, criminals, druggies, mentally deficient and defective people are having 95% of the kids. This makes the future America, a disaster to live in. Low quality 3rd worlders are invading across the border by the millions to feed off the corpse of the once great, America.
    The media says don’t say what your lying eyes are telling you. You will get accused of hate.
    Rough times are ahead.

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