Personally, I didn't realize just how often I reached for a Heineken until I started trying to conceive. I was already upping my kale intake and rocking my yoga class — it only made sense to cut down on a substance I knew was basically harmful for my body. To my surprise, however, switching from Chardonnay to sparkling water (at least most of the time) was easier said than done. Whether you have a glass of wine with dinner, or you're partying like it's 1999, how does alcohol affect your fertility? According to the experts behind Ria Health, a new physician-managed, telemedicine app dedicated to helping people manage problem drinking from the comfort of their own home, there are some things to know.
“At low doses of alcohol, there’s not much effect on fertility," explains John Mendelson, MD, the Chief Medical Officer at Ria Health. However, if you're binge-drinking — consuming four or more alcoholic beverages within a few hours — fertility takes a hit, in both men and women, he explains to Romper. Today, 25 percent of couples struggle to get pregnant without any known cause. While there's limited data available, Mendelson suspects that alcohol might account for some of that heartache.
Excessive drinking not only reduces your chance of becoming pregnant; it also increases your risk for spontaneous abortion and miscarriage. "Women drinking only one drink per week had only 1.37 stillbirths per thousand, but if they increase to five drinks, the rate goes to 8.83 per thousand births," explains Mendelson, who notes that the safe threshold for drinking during pregnancy is a drink (or less) per day.
However, it's hard to know for sure what a safe level is for you, because your ability to metabolize alcohol changes when you get pregnant. "Getting pregnant and staying pregnant — there are dose-dependent effects in both cases," Mendelson explains.
"I suffered multiple miscarriages, and I’m sure that it was partially because I was drinking. I think that [telemedicine and Ria Health] is so much better for women, because it's private, and the results are much more successful than they have been in the past."
Here's how the app works: from the comfort of your own home, you'll receive a comprehensive medical evaluation with check-ins once a month. You may also be prescribed an FDA-approved medication — generally the craving-reducing Naltrexone — to take one hour before you drink. A coach will call once a week, and is also available to chat via text. Finally, you'll receive a bluetooth breathalyzer that connects to your phone, so you can take your blood-alcohol level twice a day.
Why the breathalyzer? Alcohol affects everyone differently, explains Ria Health CEO Tom Nix. He compares drinking without knowing your blood-alcohol level to driving without a speedometer — you simply have no way of knowing if what you're doing is safe.
So far, Ria Health's service has helped hundreds of people who might not have succeeded with an abstinence program like Alcoholics Anonymous, which The Atlantic described as having a serious "one-size-fits-all" problem. "We’re suppressing drinking by about 60 percent over baseline levels, and increasing non-drinking days from about 1.5 to four days per week. So we’re showing very positive impacts," says Mendelson.
"Back in the old days, it was cold turkey, and women would have to go through trying to conceive with white knuckles and cravings," Christian tells Romper. "Now women have this choice, this opportunity to deal with their drinking in a dignified, private manner."
In discussions of infertility, there's often a unilateral focus on women's decisions, but what your partner does matters, too. In fact, alcohol use drives a significant percentage of male infertility, according to Mendelson, and women with partners who drink may find it harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The creators of Ria Health see an opportunity for women to enroll the whole family in making healthy choices, and for partners to support each other as they try to conceive.
When it comes to your fertility, a glass of wine here and there is not a problem, but the effects of binge drinking ricochet throughout your life — and fertility is no exception. Fortunately, scientifically-proven methods exist for women looking to improve their health before, during, and after pregnancy. With the advent of telemedicine, women and their families have more access to these options than ever.
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