One of the biggest issues we run into with egg donors is alcohol and drug use. The rules surrounding alcohol and drug use can be confusing, and it is also not often clear why it is so important that donors avoid alcohol and drugs. This blog post breaks down the impact of alcohol and drugs on the egg donation process.
What do alcohol and drugs do to the body?
Overall, drugs and alcohol both can result in a disruption of hormone balance in the body. They interfere by interrupting or stopping the menstrual cycle, hindering ovulation, and contributing to ovarian dysfunction or failure.
For women, heavy drinking may contribute to period problems, such as heavy, irregular or no periods. This means you are less likely to ovulate or release eggs if your period is irregular.
In women, marijuana can prevent regular ovulation, interrupt the menstrual cycle, and disrupt estrogen production. This is a result of the cannabinoids in marijuana interacting with the endocannabinoid system. While this does not necessarily mean they cannot have children, women who experience these irregularities are at a higher risk of infertility.
Other drugs like cocaine can also cause infertility in women by affecting their hormones, ovulation cycles, menstrual cycles, and fallopian tubes.
What about cigarettes?
Smoking cigarettes may accelerate ovarian follicular depletion. Ovarian follicles are small sacs filled with fluid inside a woman’s ovaries; these follicles secrete hormones and each follicle has the potential to release an egg for fertilization. Women naturally begin to lose fertility and reproductive function as they age, but the chemicals in cigarette smoke appear to speed up this process by 1-4 years.
The basal follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels are significantly higher in young smokers than in nonsmokers; elevated FSH levels can indicate diminished ovarian reserve. Smoking is also associated with lower anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) levels in women approaching menopausal age. AMH levels correspond to the number of eggs you have or your ovarian reserve; the higher the AMH levels the more eggs you have. In egg donation, the target AMH level is over 2, but consistent cigarette use has shown to produce levels lower than 1.
There is good evidence that smokers require nearly twice the number of IVF attempts to conceive as nonsmokers. Both chromosomal and DNA damage to the egg may result from tobacco smoke exposure.
Why does this matter for me, the egg donor?
As an egg donor, it is essential to keep your reproductive health in as good condition as possible. You are chosen by the intended families in large part because of your reproductive health, and thus it is important for you to maintain that health. Avoiding alcohol and drug use is vital to making sure the egg donation process goes as smoothly as possible for everyone, and that the potential embryo that could be created is as healthy as possible.
What do you recommend in terms of drug and alcohol consumption as an egg donor?
We require that our egg donors be drug free for at least three months before being added to the database. While on the database, our donors commit to being completely drug-free. It is also a good idea to avoid close contact with others who are smoking. It’s been established that there are also adverse effects of side-stream and second-hand smoking, which comes from being around other people smoking and voluntarily or involuntarily inhaling their smoke. There is good evidence that nonsmokers with excessive exposure to tobacco smoke may have reproductive consequences that are just as bad as smokers themselves.
In terms of alcohol consumption, it is best to avoid heavy drinking while on the database. The NIAAA defines heavy drinking for women as consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.
While there are currently no clinically proven ways to improve egg quality once it has begun to decline, researchers have been exploring how lifestyle choices may have a significant impact on reproductive health in general. There have not yet been any conclusive findings on what type of diet or exercise is best for egg quality specifically, but common sense and self-care, such as limiting or steering clear of alcohol and drug use, will go a long way towards ensuring that your body as a whole is functioning at its peak potential for health.