Around 10% of people of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems.
In some cases, the cause of these problems can be identified. Conditions and physical abnormalities that affect the reproductive organs may interfere with the process of fertilization or the implantation of the embryo. However, in some cases, the main cause of reproductive problems is not an abnormality in the organs but rather the overall state of our body.
Dehydration in particular can have devastating effects on our fertility. In both males and females, not drinking enough water will cause a number of alterations that could make it more difficult, or even impossible, to have children.
Fortunately, the negative effects of dehydration can be easily reversed by drinking the recommended amount per day. Let’s review how dehydration can affect the reproductive functions of men and women.
Dehydration and Fertility
In order to become pregnant, a woman’s body needs to prepare in a number of ways.
First, it needs to receive the sperm from the male and keep it alive until it reaches the egg. Second, it requires healthy, fertile eggs, delivered to the Fallopian tubes where conception will happen. Third, it has to allow the implantation of the fertilized egg on the inner lining of the uterus. Fourth, it needs an overall balance of several sexual hormones in order to keep the whole system working.
Water is a key factor of all these processes, and if there is a problem with any one of them, fertility will be negatively affected. Let’s break it down.
Insufficient water intake can affect your cervical mucus
The female reproductive system secretes different fluids, each one of them with a primary function.
Cervical mucus is one of those fluids; it’s produced in the cervix – hence the name – and helps the sperm survive inside the body of the woman and finally reach the egg.
During ovulation, which is the fertile period of the month, cervical mucus becomes thin and slippery in order to allow the sperm to swim their way up to the Fallopian tubes. Poor quality or insufficient cervical mucus may be a cause of infertility.
Since this fluid is 90% water, a dehydrated body will produce less of this mucus, making it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg.
Even if the cervical mucus has the right texture and thickness, sperm won’t survive if the environment within the vagina is too acidic.
Normally, the pH of the vagina, which is the balance of acidity and alkalinity inside of it, is quite acidic. This helps prevent infections because it kills bacteria and fungi, but it also kills sperm. For this reason, the vagina naturally becomes more alkaline around the time of ovulation, so the sperm can survive.
However, dehydration causes your whole body to become more acidic, and this includes, of course, your reproductive organs. If you don’t drink enough water, your body will be too acidic and sperm won’t get a chance to reach your eggs.
Egg health depends on your body hydration
Even if the sperm makes it all the way to your Fallopian tubes, it must encounter a healthy egg to fertilize.
Women release one, two, or even three eggs per month in a process called ovulation. In order for ovulation to occur, germ cells must become eggs inside the ovaries, in a process triggered by a series of hormones.
This takes place in a watery environment and depends on the blood supply, which is also a watery fluid. Insufficient water in your system will alter this process.
Unhealthy eggs are more likely to have the wrong number or distribution of chromosomes, which may cause implantation problems or even miscarriages.
Dehydration will thin and weaken your uterine lining
Not all fertility problems prevent conception from happening. Sometimes, the egg and the sperm successfully encounter, but the resulting embryo is unable to implant inside the uterus.
In these cases, an early miscarriage occurs, and the woman often mistakes it for a period. When the embryo is healthy, but the endometrium (the inside lining of the uterus) is in bad shape, then implantation might not happen.
Dehydration will affect the proliferation and structure of the endometrium, and is also known to affect the menstrual cycle.
The role of water in your hormonal cycle
The female reproductive cycle is the result of the interaction of many sexual hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, FSH and LH.
Any imbalance in these hormones will alter the cycle, and therefore, any aspect of the process: maturation of eggs, ovulation, endometrial proliferation and embryo implantation.
Some sexual hormones are produced in the ovaries, while others are released from your pituitary gland inside your head, and need to travel all the way to your ovaries through your blood.
Since water is an important component of blood, dehydration will hinder their arrival into your ovaries, thus reducing their effect and altering your reproductive cycle.
Dehydration might also affect male fertility
When couples fail to conceive after a year of unprotected sex, a fertility problem is diagnosed. In 30% of these cases, the dysfunction is in the male partner.
Just as it happens with their female counterparts, certain conditions, abnormalities or surgeries may lower a man’s capacity to deliver fertile semen or even render him incapable of having a child through sexual intercourse.
However, in other cases, fertility might be affected by the overall state of the body, and dehydration could be an important factor. The amount of water in the body affects both the function of male sexual hormones and the quality of the sperm.
Drink enough water for your hormonal health
The male body produces many sexual hormones, including testosterone, FSH and LH, which regulate both sexual drive and the production of sperm. Just as with women, men require an adequate flow of sexual hormones for their gametes (sexual cells) to grow and mature.
Dehydration will cause the blood vessels to contract, so it will be more difficult for sexual hormones to reach the testicles where sperm is produced.
Also, the action of male sexual hormones may be negatively affected by toxins present in the blood. Proper hydration will allow the kidneys to filter these toxins and send them out of the body through the urine.
How dehydration lowers the quality of your semen
Semen has many components, and only 1-5% of it is the sperm. Most of your semen is actually water, where several nutrients and chemicals float in a colloidal suspension.
These chemicals are produced by the glands of the male reproductive system – namely, the prostate, the seminal vesicles and the bulbourethral glands – in order to either nourish the sperm or help it break through the many physical and chemical barriers of the female reproductive organs.
Any imbalance in semen will make it more difficult for the sperm to reach the Fallopian tubes.
Since the seminal fluid is mostly water, and dehydration decreases your secretion of any fluids in your body, insufficient water intake will make your semen thicker.
The relative concentration of both sperm and chemicals will be higher, which is often detrimental to your fertility. Less fluid output means less sperm.
Also, a thicker medium means that it will be more difficult for your sperm to swim up the vagina and the uterus, so there is a lesser chance that fertilization will occur.
A quick note on dehydration during pregnancy
Infertility isn’t just the difficulty to conceive, but also to carry the pregnancy to term.
Pregnant women are more likely to get dehydrated because the baby growing inside of them consumes fluids, uses the same blood as them and releases toxins that must be cleaned with extra urine output.
Morning sickness and digestive discomfort can also cause an expecting mother to lose lots of fluids, especially in the first trimester. These conditions combined could harm the new life growing in the uterus.
Aside from the usual consequences of being dehydrated for the mother, the baby may experience irreversible damage while inside the womb, such as neurological deformations.
Insufficient water intake increases the risk of miscarriages and premature delivery. Dehydrated mothers are known to experience more Braxton-Hicks contractions. These are short and intense contractions that often happen in the third trimester and last for a minute or two. Braxton-Hicks contractions are normal in the third trimester, but dehydration may cause them to appear early, especially in the second trimester.
Increase your water intake to improve your fertility
Both men and women will benefit from drinking enough water, but couples trying to conceive must pay special attention to the amount of liquid that they drink every day.
Dehydration has negative effects in all our bodily functions as well as our mental state, and can impair fertility and pregnancy in a number of ways.
Learn about the recommended water intake for your body weight – it’s often 2 liters per day for women and 3 liters for men – and add a couple more glasses of water to your daily routine. It can work miracles.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.