Alcohol around conception and pregnancy

At Mornington Chinese Medicine we have numerous lifestyle recommendations for the time when you are trying to conceive and also maintain optimal health.  One of those recommendations for men or women is to totally cut out alcohol.  This can sometimes be the most difficult step for some individuals, but the reasons behind this little piece of advice initially based within the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine is becoming more mainstream and understood from a scientific point of view.

Alcohol has been linked to numerous problems if consumed during pregnancy and abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy helps reduce developmental problems and congenital defects in newborns.  More recently, studies have begun to show that cutting out alcohol before conception can be extremely beneficial.  Previous research on the Paternal contribution to foetal alcohol syndrome demonstrated that alcohol exposure changes the DNA in developing sperm and sperm activity.  

According to ScienceDaily’s summary of the recent research in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, “Drinking alcohol three months before pregnancy or during the first trimester was associated with a 44% raised risk of congenital heart disease for fathers and 16% for mothers, compared to not drinking. Binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks per sitting, was related to a 52% higher likelihood of these birth defects for men and 16% for women.

The new results suggest if you are trying to have a baby, men should stop alcohol for at least 6 months before conception and women approximately one year before conception for optimal conditions and obviously also eliminate alcohol whilst pregnant.

In Australia Congenital Heart Disease impacts about 1 in every 100 children born each year.  It can range in the abnormalities of the heart from valve diseases to septal defects where the blood can leak from one section of the heart to another.

Most previous studies on alcohol and heart disease focused on the link between alcohol consumption and future mothers, this is the first meta-analysis that focuses on the drinking fathers before conception.  

Alcohol from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective adds ‘heat’ to your body and can also create ‘dampness’.  Dampness can bog down your body, stopping the metabolism of fluids creating symptoms like oedema, swelling and even accumulating excess fat.  Heat on the other hand has the natural ability to simply warm you up and heat up your body leaving it in a dry state with redness or dry skin, but it can also lead to conditions such as irritability, restlessness, insomnia and changes in spirit or mood including anxiety or depression.

Often when treating fertility from a Chinese Medicine point of view, two of the symptoms that we will commonly ask relates to ‘heat’ within your system.  The question “Do you have night sweats?” is extremely common as well as “Do you feel hot at night?”.  The differentiation between these two statements may seem ambiguous, however it puts a person on a spectrum between two extremes.  On one end is actually having night sweats, being hot and perspiring at night, waking up sweaty, the other end is the subjective feeling of heat at night.  This is a stage well before having night sweats where your body is beginning to heat up, you may start with the earlier signs of simply having a dry mouth, putting a glass of water or liquid of some sort near your bed that you can sip on during the night. 

Within Traditional Chinese Medicine and the treatment of fertility we often talk about the energetic function of the ‘Kidneys’, and ‘Kidney Deficiency’.  This does not mean the physical kidney organ within your body; it refers more to a set of functions within the body that has been classified under the name ‘Kidneys’.  In reality, the functions relate more towards the biological adrenal system than the actual Kidneys, however there is a small amount of overlapping from a biological point of view.  

Kidneys have numerous functions within Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, within fertility we focus on some specific aspects of this organ.  Kidneys are viewed as the origin of life; it stores the essence and is the fundamental source of yin or yang within the body.  Kidneys are responsible for aspects of fertility, because the Kidneys store the essence, it is said when conception occurs the father’s essence and mother’s essence combine.  It is the early Chinese Medicine version of parental DNA combining to create life. Having good functioning Kidneys within Traditional Chinese Medicine will allow a much higher success rate with conception or pregnancy in women and it also improves the attributes of sperm for men.  When the Kidneys are weak symptoms such as lower back pain, night sweats, low energy, burnout, fatigue, feeling hot, brittle hair or nails, low libido, low sperm counts and can also include dizziness, hearing issues, incontinence and seminal emissions.  

We all start with different levels of Kidney essence when we are born.  The essence from a Father and Mother combine to bring about life where you obtain a portion of Kidney essence to use throughout life.  The health of the parents will depend how much of this essence is passed onto the child.   If parents a vibrant and healthy they will pass a healthy amount of essence to the child, whilst if the parents health has declined, they will pass less essence onto the upcoming child.  

There are numerous ways to deplete your Kidneys from a Chinese Medicine point of view.  Kidneys will have a naturally slow decease as we age and grow up. Developmental stages relate to the kidneys, so going through puberty and other stages indicate the functions of the Kidney’s and that they have reduced to a specific level.  Besides the natural decline of kidneys throughout our lives we can speed up our decline of Kidney essence if we choose to and there are numerous ways to do so.  Some of the ways include the adage ‘burning the candle at both ends’, it is overworking, not taking breaks, not resting enough, basically expending more energy than we are putting into our system.  Another way to reduce our Kidney essence is through drugs or alcohol, they both contribute to the decline in Kidney essence at various levels, especially stimulants of all sorts.  

One functions of the Kidneys is to hold our reserve storehouse of energy, the essence we store is used as reserves over our lifetime.   If another organ has low energy, it is borrowed from the Kidneys reserves.  As we complete activities that spend more energy from our body compared to the food and other energy we put into our body, we end up using up some of our reserve tank, or kidney essence, to give us that extra boost of adrenaline and energy we need.  Stimulants are designed to give you energy your body didn’t previously have, this from a Chinese Medicine point of view taps into our Kidney Essence and uses up some of that reserve energy to give you that quick buzz.  Another common way to reduce your Kidney essence can be going to the gym or exercising too much, this is another common way where by design we want to spend more energy than we put into our system, combined with possible pre-workout formula that contain stimulants and caffeine it’s a sure way to deplete your Kidney essence.  The key part here is ‘too much’ as regular exercise is great for the body, especially the Liver from a Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view, but it is all about moderation.

A good rule of thumb to follow for general lifestyle events would be how tired are you after the activity?  If you are worn out and exhausted after a workout, shift, or activity, dialling things back or taking breaks and conserving that energy is important to maintain your Kidney Essence.  This is especially true if you are trying to conceive as this will give the best possible chance for conception.

Alcohol specifically also adds heat into the system, so aside from depleting your Kidney Essence, it also adds to the heat that is produced.  As the feeling of heat is a common side effect when your Kidneys are weak, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners try to cool you down, build up your Kidneys and reduce any external sources of heat you may be ingesting that could counteract the work we are doing do remove that heat.  This could be reducing alcohol, recreational drug use, chilli and hot or spicy foods as well as adjusting lifestyle activities such as increasing meditation to adjusting your diet through increasing specific types of foods.

Within Traditional Chinese Medicine alcohol is only recommended for specific purposes, and regarding fertility it is generally advised to cut out and abstain from alcohol all together.  New research is also showing that reducing alcohol improves your chances of conception and reduces the possibility of conditions such as foetal alcohol syndrome or congenital heart failure.  These are some of the topics we can help with at Mornington Chinese Medicine as promoting health and well-being is our primary goal as we believe health is the body’s natural state and Chinese Medicine is an excellent way to achieve equilibrium.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me for further information or to discuss these amazing topics.

Simon is available for consult on Monday, Friday and Saturday at Mornington Chinese Medicine.

To book your appointment please call us on PH: 5973 6886

  1. Parental alcohol consumption and the risk of congenital heart diseases in offspring: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology,https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2047487319874530
  2. Science Daily, Fathers-to-be should avoid alcohol six months before conception, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191003074846.htm
  3. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Congenital Heart Defects: A Meta-Analysis, PLoS One. 2015; 10(6), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4482023/
  4. Paternal contribution to fetal alcohol syndrome, Addict Biol. 2004 Jun;9(2):127-33; discussion 135-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15223537
  5. Congenital Heart Disease – Heart Kids, https://www.heartkids.org.au/congenital-heart-disease
  6. Paternal contribution to fetal alcohol syndrome, Addict Biol. 2004 Jun;9(2):127-33; discussion 135-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15223537
  7. Alcohol and Pregnancy – CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/dotw/fasd/index.html

©Simon Altman, 2019.

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