By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new study has found that a history of alcohol dependence appears to lower the likelihood of having a biological child, particularly for women.
The study, conducted by Mary Waldron, Ph.D. of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues in the Genetic Epidemiology Unit of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, found that alcohol predicted a 28 percent reproductive delay among women older than 24 in one study group, and a 71 percent delay in women over 29 in another group.
“Although early alcohol use is a strong predictor of future alcohol problems and adolescent drinking is associated with risky sexual behavior predictive of early childbearing,” researchers wrote, “reproductive dysfunctions associated with delayed childbearing have been reported in adult drinkers.”
The underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown, but may include infertility and spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, Dr. Waldron’s group said.
The study evaluated the lifetime history of alcohol dependence in two broadly representative groups of primarily Caucasian twins from Australia. One group consisted of 3,634 female twins and the other group consisted of 1,880 male twins. The groups were followed from the time of childhood into adulthood.
While prior studies have also linked heavy or chronic consumption to lower sperm counts and impotence in men, the association between chronic alcohol consumption and reproductive delay were not significant among men in Dr. Waldron’s study.
However, the possible gender difference in the risk for delayed reproduction fits evidence suggesting reproductive dysfunction occurs among women at lower levels of alcohol consumption than among men, Dr. Waldron’s group noted.
“Drink for drink, women absorb more alcohol into their system and with higher blood alcohol levels,” the researchers concluded. “The intoxicating effects of alcohol occur more quickly and last longer.”
Dr. Waldron and colleagues cautioned that the findings might be of limited generalizability to non-Caucasian populations, “given often substantial race differences in both alcohol dependency risk and timing of first childbearing,” and to other nations.
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