Drinking red wine at least once a week may improve women’s chances of becoming pregnant, a controversial new study has found.
Research revealed that hopeful mothers who regularly drank red wine had better ovarian reserve, the quantity of eggs present in the ovaries at any one time.
The findings of the Washington University study challenge UK Government guidance, which warns women to avoid alcohol when trying to conceive for fear of harming their baby.
They were greeted with caution by a number of British experts, who said wider research is needed before altering current advice.
It follows a recent flare up in the debate over “patronising” official guidance warning pregnant women not to drink, which critics say lacks a thorough evidential basis.
The figures from the new study of 135 women, presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual Congress in Texas, showed that, while red wine appears to be helpful, white wine, beer and spirits were not linked to higher fertility.
Those who consumed more than five servings of red wine a month enjoyed a higher ovarian reserve.
The researchers said the link may be down to resveratrol, an anti-inflammatory compound which occurs in high concentration in red wine.
Professor Adam Balen, Chair of the British Fertility Society, said: “It is an interesting idea that a small amount of red wine might be positively associated with ovarian reserve.
“However we have to remember that the exposure of the developing foetus to alcohol may cause irreversible developmental damage and so alcohol consumption should be less than six units per week for women wishing to conceive.”
In 2013, a larger study indicated that drinking three glasses of wine a week may actually reduce a woman’s chances of conceiving when trying for a baby using IVF, but doctors said more regular drinking may not itself be driving lower fertility, but may indicate other factors such as stress which could be having an effect.
World of difference | Different pregnancy diets around the world
Here, raw fish is seen as healthy, and the idea that pregnant women should give up sushi is laughable.
Some Indian families believe that eating saffron helps to produce a fair-complexion child, encouraging women to drink saffron milk. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this, the spice is good for digestion and has anti-inflammatory properties. Eating extremely spicy food is also encouraged.
Mothers-to-be are told to avoid cold foods such as ice-cream, while watermelon, bananas and mung beans are thought to contain a negative yin, or energy, that can result in a miscarriage.
Historically, French women have a more relaxed attitude to drinking alcohol and eating soft cheese while pregnant, even if the country’s medical professionals disagree.
Around 84 per cent of couples in the UK conceive naturally within a year if they have unprotected sex every two or three days, according to the NHS.
This leaves around 3.5 million people who have difficulty conceiving.
Couples who have been trying to conceive for more than three years without success have at best a 25 per cent chance of getting pregnant naturally within the next year.
This leads many to turn to IVF, although provision on the NHS is becoming increasingly limited.
Fertility experts have pointed out that the new Washington study was carried out on only a small number of women and that, while it did adjust its findings for body-mass index and age, it did not do so for other potentially influencing factors such as ethnicity and participants’ diet.
They said it also failed to account for the potentially different effects caused by regularly drinking small amounts of red wine and binge drinking.
“There is a lot of interest in whether anti-oxidants could improve fertility in men and women,” said Dr Channa Jayasena, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London.
She added that while it was “tempting to tell women rush out and drink red wine”, they should not do so on the basis of this study.
However, the new research correlates with a Danish study published in the British Medical Journal last year which found, contrary to much pre-existing opinion, that drinking up to 14 or more servings of alcohol a week did not negatively influence chances of conception.