Fertility and pregnancy * Women's health * Sexual health

Link between coffee drinking and reduced fertility explained

Link between coffee drinking and reduced fertility explained Not recommended as a contraceptive

Women with high caffeine consumption often take longer to conceive than other women.

Now a new study appears to have found an explanation for this connection - and the findings may help to play a part in treating infertility.

In order for a woman to get pregnant her eggs must travel to the womb through the Fallopian tubes. The mechanisms that allow her microscopically small eggs to move through the tubes are not well understood, but scientists have long suspected that tiny hair-like features in the walls of the tubes, called cilia, somehow help the eggs to waft along. Muscle contractions in the Fallopian tubes also appear to aid this process.

By studying this process in mice, scientists at the University of Nevada School of Medicine discovered that caffeine stops the actions of specialised pacemaker cells in the wall of the tubes. The cells' function is to coordinate the contractions in the tubes, so when these are stopped the eggs can't move to the womb, as the contractions are more important to the eggs' movements than the cilia.

Commenting on these results, study leader Professor Sean Ward said: "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."

While this effect can be reversed by reducing coffee consumption, the insights revealed by the study could contribute to developing new treatments for infertility and other conditions, "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" Dr Ward said.

The results of the study are published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

This article was published on Fri 27 May 2011

Image © Radu Razvan - Fotolia.com

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