The CDC recently advised women of child-bearing ages not to drink alcohol unless they were on birth control. Ms. Geek doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke for a variety of reasons including allergies and, gasp, religion, but she takes umbrage to the attitude of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It does take two to tango, even when there’s a test tube involved.
Sperm donors know that they can’t be over 40 and have to watch the amount of alcohol they are drinking. So it has been known for years that the consumption of alcohol and tobacco have an effect on the production of sperm. The British website DrinkAware notes that not only does alcohol affect female fertility, it also affects male fertility. “Alcohol is to the testes. This can harm sperm when they’re produced and stop them developing properly or reaching the egg.”
In a Danish study, researchers found that in men who drank 40 or more units in a week “total sperm counts were 33% lower, and the proportion of normal-looking sperm was 51% lower, compared with men who only drank one to five units.” Another study suggests that only five drinks a week can have an effect on the quality of sperm.
In 1991, the New York Times published an article noting that research on birth defects had shifted from the mothers to the fathers. “The new research, much of it in early stages, suggests that certain substances can cause genetic mutations or other alterations in sperm that lead to permanent defects in children. These include familiar birth defects like heart abnormalities and mental retardation as well as less familiar ones like childhood cancer and learning disorders.”
A study published in “Animal Cells and Systems” in 2014 indicated that “The authors believe alcohol consumption affects genes in sperm which are responsible for normal fetal development.” That is to say, fathers are also accountable for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that included “retarded intellect, stunted growth and nervous system abnormalities, social problems and isolation.”
The old way of thinking blamed the woman from everything from conception to the sex of the child (Think King Henry VIII). More recently, there’s been the concept of the macho active sperm swimming to the drifting passive egg. This meant that only the fittest of sperm would be able to make the journey and unite with an egg. This isn’t so.
The CDC, which is directed since 2009 by Thomas R. Frieden, continues to hold women accountable for the health of the baby because women will be pregnant for nine months. A woman is born with a finite set of eggs. Men begin producing sperm when they reach puberty and continue to produce sperm until they are dead or sterilized. For this reason, the health of the male and the chemical exposure of the male is actually more important.
Instead of just advising the “3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy” the CDC should also all boys who have reached puberty and all men who have not had a vasectomy or been sterilized. Until men and boys are asked to take responsibility then that 100 percent of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders will not be completely preventable. The CDC must turn away from the macho sperm theories and remember that what is good for women is also good for men and since men are generally continually producing sperm and fertile 24/7 throughout the month, the measures taken should be doubly important for men and their genetic material.