Consumer Health World — 21 December 2011

The study found that the fertility of a man’s semen declined if his mother drank five or more cups of coffee a day while pregnant. Photo: Julius Schorzman

A son who is exposed to his mother’s heavy coffee drinking while she is pregnant is more likely to have poorer semen quality later in life, according to a new study by the Public Health Institute.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, found “clear evidence” that the fertility of semen declined for sons currently in their 40’s whose mothers drank five or more cups of coffee daily while the sons were in utero.

“Based on this study, we can say that it is a good idea to limit your coffee consumption during pregnancy,” said Piera Cirillo, lead author of the article and a senior research scientist at the Child Health and Development Studies in Berkeley, Calif. “There have been hints of this effect in human and animal studies, but our prospective study presents strong evidence that maternal prenatal coffee consumption can impair the reproductive tract of the developing male fetus.””

The study’s data is drawn from the CHDS, an ongoing health study which collected information and biological specimens from 1959 to 1967 from pregnant women in the Oakland area. The women were interviewed about their coffee drinking while they were pregnant. At the time, women were not yet being warned to reduce their coffee consumption, so there was no fear of stigma for admitting to high coffee consumption.

Researchers followed up with 196 of the women’s sons, mostly in their 40s, who provided semen samples. Three key ways to measure semen quality all declined. The measures were for semen concentration, motility (movement) and normal morphology (characteristics, such as sperm size and shape).

“Although these results are based on a small sample, which warrants cautious interpretation, finding consistent reductions in all three semen measures suggests that drinking coffee during pregnancy may very well impact adult male reproduction,” said Cirillo.

Most studies of coffee drinking during pregnancy have examined its effects on the fetus, and focused on outcomes such as miscarriage and spontaneous abortion.

Although the new CHDS study looked only at men in their 40s, it’s possible the decline in sperm quality begins earlier. Researchers found no association between a man’s current coffee drinking and his semen quality. The study also found no association between a pregnant woman’s alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking and her son’s semen quality.

The study supports the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ guideline that pregnant women should drink no more than two cups of coffee each day.

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Pat Anson, Editor

Pat is Editor in Chief of American News Report. He is a veteran journalist and a former correspondent and producer for HealthWeek (PBS), Nightly Business Report (PBS) and other nationally syndicated shows. Pat has won numerous journalism awards, including a Golden Mike award for investigative reporting.

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