How Alcohol Affects Testosterone

Sad-looking man holding glass of whiskey

The overconsumption of alcohol can have a negative impact on nearly all aspects of your health, including testosterone levels.

Testosterone is the key male sex hormone that is most responsible manly characteristics. It’s what makes men men. It plays a critical part in the growth of muscle and bone, physical size and strength, sexual reproduction, cognitive function, and many other aspects of male health.

However, if testosterone levels fall, it can cause adverse effects, including:

  • Loss of muscle and/or bone mass
  • Low sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Problems with fertility
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Lethargy
  • Depression and/or lack of motivation
  • Loss of facial or body hair
  • Enlarged breasts (gynecomastia)

Even in women, who produce smaller amounts of testosterone compared to men, low levels of testosterone can decrease bone strength and cause low libido.

What Effect Does Alcohol Have On Testosterone?

Three glands are responsible for testosterone production in men: the anterior pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and the testes.

  • The hypothalamus secretes the hormone GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), which stimulates the anterior pituitary.
  • As a result, the anterior pituitary gland releases both LH and FSH (luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone).
  • This, in turn, triggers the testes (or testicles) into producing testosterone.

Because it interferes with the function of these glands, alcohol can disrupt testosterone production.

Effects Of Short-Term Alcohol Use On Testosterone

The short-term heavy use of alcohol is believed to cause a decrease in the release of testosterone. This may be due to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands being negatively affected.

Research has shown that testosterone levels can begin to decrease as quickly as 30 minutes after consuming alcohol.(1)

Additionally, in one study, healthy male participants drank a pint of whiskey every day for a month. Within 3 days, the testosterone levels of the participants began to drop, and within 30 days they reached levels comparable to those of men with alcoholism.(2)

Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use On Testosterone

People who drink a lot of alcohol are more likely than those who have moderate amounts to suffer from impaired testicular function.

For men, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 16 or more drinks per week, and for women, 9 or more drinks per week. Men who are heavy drinkers are more at risk for having the following conditions:

  • Low testosterone levels
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction

Long-term overconsumption of alcohol is believed to cause damage to the Leydig cells of the testes, which are responsible for producing testosterone. The release of LH, FSH and GnRH may be affected by alcohol as well.

However, moderate alcohol intake doesn’t appear to have any long-term effects upon testosterone levels or reproductive health (moderate alcohol consumption typically means having no more than two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women).

Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Sperm Quality?

It has been shown that the function of Sertoli cells can be affected by alcohol. These cells are necessary for sperm to fully develop.

Sperm production is also influenced by testosterone and FSH. Interference with these hormones can impair sperm development, a condition known as spermatogenic arrest, and lead to a low sperm count.

Research has shown that half of men who are heavy drinkers experience spermatogenic arrest, compared to just 20% of men who do not drink heavily.(3) These studies also showed that heavy drinkers had slightly smaller testicles compared to those who did not drink heavily.

Research also indicates that heavy drinking can negatively impact both sperm shape and semen volume.(4) However, more than one study shows that moderate alcohol consumption does not cause the same adverse effects on either parameter.(5)

While it is well-known that pregnant women should not drink, some research indicates that men who consume a lot of alcohol prior to conception could also increase the chances of their baby having birth defects.

How Long Will It Take To Return To Normal After Quitting Alcohol?

Some of the damage done to your brain and testes can be reversed by quitting drinking.

Depending on how much you drink and for how long, recovery may take months or even years. Some damage can be irreversible.

Research has shown that men who are heavy drinkers, testosterone levels increase steadily increase and return to normal limits after three weeks of abstinence.(6)

Following a healthy lifestyle can be a great help in the recovery process. You can maintain optimal levels of testosterone and other hormones by steering clear of junk food, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise.

Does Alcohol Impact Testosterone Replacement Therapy?

Low testosterone is more common in individuals with a history of alcohol abuse. Continued heavy drinking while receiving testosterone replacement therapy could interfere with the effectiveness of the treatment.

It is suggested by many doctors that you limit or stop drinking alcohol while receiving testosterone treatment.

Better than 90% of men who have advanced liver disease have low testosterone levels as well.(7) Continued drinking could worsen liver damage and lead to further impairment of testosterone production and other health problems.

When You Should See A Doctor

It’s a good idea for you to consult with a doctor if you suspect that your drinking may be affecting your testosterone levels and/or reproductive health. Your doctor will recommend the best options for the treatment of low testosterone and alcohol dependence.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6571549/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6571549/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6571549/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28029592/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4093992/
  6. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/42/1/19/163114
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25087838/

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