Caffeine delays conception?

Let’s see if I can do this with some, ahem, decorum… do couples trying to get pregnant get to have more fun if the woman drinks lots of coffee, tea or cola?

University of Nevada School of Medicine researchers report in the British Journal of Pharmacology that,

Caffeine reduces muscle activity in the Fallopian tubes that carry eggs from a woman’s ovaries to her womb. “Our experiments were conducted in mice, but this finding goes a long way towards explaining why drinking caffeinated drinks can reduce a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant.”

The researchers go on to explain in their media release that,

Human eggs are microscopically small, but need to travel to a woman’s womb if she is going to have a successful pregnancy. Although the process is essential for a successful pregnancy, scientists know little about how eggs move through the muscular Fallopian tubes. It was generally assumed that tiny hair-like projections, called cilia, in the lining of the tubes, waft eggs along assisted by muscle contractions in the tube walls.

By studying tubes from mice, Professor Ward and his team discovered that caffeine stops the actions of specialised pacemaker cells in the wall of the tubes. These cells coordinate tube contractions so that when they are inhibited, eggs can’t move down the tubes. In fact these muscle contractions play a bigger role than the beating cilia in moving the egg towards the womb. “This provides an intriguing explanation as to why women with high caffeine consumption often take longer to conceive than women who do not consume caffeine,” says Professor Ward.

Discovering the link between caffeine consumption and reduced fertility has benefits. “As well as potentially helping women who are finding it difficult to get pregnant, a better understanding of the way Fallopian tubes work will help doctors treat pelvic inflammation and sexually-transmitted disease more successfully,” says Professor Ward. It could also increase our understanding of what causes ectopic pregnancy, an extremely painful and potentially life-threatening situation in which embryos get stuck and start developing inside a woman’s Fallopian tube.

So does this research explain why caffeinated women take longer to conceive? Is there any evidence that, in fact, hyper-caffeinated women take longer to conceive in the first place?

First and contrary to the researchers claim, this experiment was not “conducted in mice.”

In fact, the mice were killed and their oviducts were then removed, segmented, frozen in liquid nitrogen, pinned to a recording chamber, and exposed to a caffeine solution to measure changes in transmembrane electrical potential.

Re-read the media release (above) and see if you think the researchers fairly describe what they did.

Past the fact that this experiment doesn’t necessarily explain any phenomena that occurs in living mice, might it have any relevance to humans?

The researchers claim it is, citing two 1990s-era epidemiological studies reporting that caffeine-consuming women take longer to conceive:

So to answer the question posed at the outset, there is no credible or compelling evidence that women’s caffeine consumption will extend pre-conception sex life.

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6 responses to “Caffeine delays conception?

  1. If caffeine consumption could ‘delay’ conception, the teenage pregnancy problem in the US wouldn’t exist….or maybe, if Coca-Cola sales dropped, conception would rise?

  2. Steve, thank you for drilling down on these types of announcements. I think a good Statistics 101 course is in order. The average person just does not know enough basic stats to intelligently determine if scientific method has been bastardised or not.

  3. If there were in fact decreased motility in human fallopian tubes (for any reason), there would be more tubal pregnancies, not fewer conceptions. Human fertilization normally takes place in the outer 1/3 of the fallopian tube and the embryo then moves down the tube to the uterus. There is definitely no evidence of increased ectopic pregnancies due to caffeine use.

    Do the researchers not understand basic human embryology?

  4. Your site is a joy to visit and use to refute the people who believe in junk science

  5. Paul Glanville

    I lived for 5+ years in a Latin American country famous for its coffee production, much of which was not exported (i.e., consumed domestically). My anecdotal experience is that the heavily caffeinated ladies there have no difficulty conceiving children…

  6. The question that really needs to be asked is “WHERE THE F is the oversight on these studies?”

    Did I miss the announcement that fertility was at a dangerous low point? Are the birthing wards empty? Are we completely ignoring all the people who do manage to get pregnant without undue effort?

    Admittedly my wife doesn’t drink any caffeine. When she decided to have our children, she stopped taking BC and within a short period she was pregnant.

    Must be supporting evidence for there hypothesis

    I can’t say that the research was wrong. If it was conducted because of the epidemiological studies, then it is a good example of bad epidemiology in action.

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