Alcohol and the Scary Headline: It Hits Home

TummyThe Daily Telegraph of London’s Headline reports that “Three glasses of wine could reduce chance of conception”.

This just goes to show how wrong we semi-gentlemen were in high school and college when we assumed that the only thing that possibly would give us a chance of getting anywhere near the ballpark where the conception game was played required at least three drinks on her part and probably three on our part.

Be my youth’s folly as it may, the article above actually tries to address an issue that a great number of middle-aged women will be very interested in: the link between alcohol consumption and successful infertility treatment. The money quote from the article, which is reporting on a recent “study”, delivers this nugget:

“Women who drank an average of just three small glasses of wine a week had a 30 per cent chance of conceiving” over a three-year period of undergoing In vitro Fertilization treatments, while those that abstained from drinking alcohol “had a 90 per cent chance of achieving a successful pregnancy, over three years.”

So I read this headline and I read this somewhat shocking conclusion up near the top of this story and I think to myself, “holy shit”, that’s an amazing finding. What the hell kind of problems is three small tipples per week likely causing in women trying to conceive via IVF?  Then, I start to think…Really? Alcohol has that kind of impact of the success of IVF? That sounds fishy to me. So I keep reading:

“Researchers who led the study of 90 women…said it was not clear why relatively small quantities of alcohol had such an impact.”

Well, that’s odd. I keep reading further down:

“Lead author Dara Godfrey, an IVF specialist from Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, said: “My advice to patients is always to limit or abstain from alcohol. But whether they do or not its up to them. Alcohol definitely has a detrimental effect on pregnancy success.”

Well, that seems to be what the study indicates!  But wait…What about this:

“She said researchers had not identified the mechanism which meant alcohol reduced fertility”

And then there is this:

“Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield…said it was possible that there were other differences between the women who abstained from alcohol entirely, and those who had several drinks a week.”

I wonder what those differences might be?

“Dr Pacey said: “I would wonder whether alcohol could be a surrogacy marker for something else – that the women who have something to drink are more likely to be stressed.”

The lead author of this study, who works at a fertility clinic in New York, turns out to be “a registered dietitian with RMA of New York who specializes in assisting patients to achieve healthy lifestyles,” according to the Press Release issued by RMA Associates. It appears that the primary claim to fame of Dara Godfrey, Registered Dietician, is that “at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan she led a Weight Management Support Group and was involved in counseling patients in such specialties as prenatal, bariatric and gastrointestinal nutrition,” according to her bio at RMA Associates.

So what do we have here? We have a scary headline (“Three glasses of wine could reduce chance of conception”.) that reports on a study (conducted by a dietician) that gives no explanation whatsoever for why the scary part might be true and a distinct possibility that there may be something else entirely outside of alcohol intake that results in the subject of the scary headline (Reduced Chance of Conception).

On the one hand this is one more example of alcohol consumption being demonized for supposedly doing something terrible to us, when there is no proof at all that it is the fault of alcohol consumption. We also have a media outlet willing to run a scary headline with no real, verifiable science to give foundation to the claim in the headline.

Let me just say that I can attest to the fact that couples who undergo IVF and infertility treatment in trying to make a baby already are under enormous stress. They fret that something is wrong with them. They worry that their greatest desire (to have a family) could have been undermined by something, anything, that they did that they should not have done. They wonder why God would punish them by preventing them from having a child. IVF Treatment can end up being a miraculous procedure that delivers the child and family the parents have always wanted. But there is a great of pain that can go along with it.

Then, the very people who are supposed to be helping these parents conceive, the reproductive medicine professionals, willingly put out unverified, speculative information that can only put a greater emotional burden on their patients.

At least I had verifiable proof that it took three drinks as a teenager to get a girl to even consider me as a possibility for something that was supposed to lead to conception.




Posted In: Health and Wine


5 Responses

  1. Sunshine - October 18, 2013

    Women who are trying to conceive have always been advised not to drink, because they might become pregnant and not know it yet. On the other hand, I have heard of doctors recommending a cocktail or glass of wine after dinner for those women if they are stressed or worried because it might allow them to relax and get to it. Stress does seem to play a big part in a woman’s ability to become pregnant. (Plus, it’s not very fun.)

    Media outlets love to scare people into reading their articles. As you point out, it’s irresponsible to misrepresent research. But newspapers, magazines and especially internet outlets and blogs have been doing it forever. People use whatever data there is to support whatever claim they want to make. That there is a correlation is extremely interesting, whether the mechanism is known or not. More important is the fact that only 90 people were involved in the study, much too small a number to draw any real conclusions. This study should make researchers interested in reproducing it with a much larger sample.

    The article gets into trouble in a few places, not least at the end when it suggests that “trouble” might be caused in households where men are advised they *can* drink and women are advised the *can’t.* I think this was an attempt at humor, but doesn’t make any sense when inserted into a situation which should be medically based.

    Anecdotally, I have never known alcohol to reduce anyone’s chances of conception. Only to increase it.

  2. Tom Wark - October 18, 2013


    Your point about only 90 people being involved is a very good one. Take a look at the press release I linked to in the post. There is more info their on the participants in the study. If i read it correctly, it’s an extremely small number of patients that actually accounted for those that drank more than 3 glass a week.

    Thanks for the insightful comment.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - October 19, 2013

    It’s been my long-standing contention that middle and high school needs to include a course specifically aimed at learning how to read media stories, especially now that in this so-called information age everyone is part of the media and every story seems to need an M.R.I. to uncover its true meaning.

  4. Alexandre Raymundo - October 19, 2013

    So easy to manipulate people with stats, one needs to be very critical and go deeper whenever facing some numbers randomly posted. Thanks for sharing this!

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