It has been widely known amongst reproductive health experts that male fertility rates have been dropping globally. Last year, a study in Human Reproduction Update showed that from 1973 until 2013—at least in the US and Europe—the average male has suffered a 59% drop in total sperm count. Why?
There are likely many reasons, but one factor may be the medications men are taking. A recent European research study published by the National Academy of Sciences (USA) suggests that Ibuprofen could be one of the medications that might be disturbing male fertility.
Male fertility a big problem
The World Health Organization estimates that currently about 25% of couples have problems with fertility, and that in up to 50% of cases, part of the problem arises from a deficiency in the man. Typically, this means the man’s sperm is of sub-optimal quality.
Pain medicines and male fetuses
The European research on Ibuprofen came from a desire to find out what might be causing this widespread fertility problem. Ibuprofen was suspected since this medication (as well as other pain medications such as aspirin and acetaminophen) have been shown to contribute, when taken by pregnant women, to potential malformations of the sexual organs of male fetuses.
European study of young men
The researchers worked with 31 healthy athletic male volunteers, ages 18 to 35. Half the group took 600mg of Ibuprofen twice a day for 6 weeks. This dose of 1200 mg. is the maximum suggested daily dose, commonly taken by athletes and others, for common aches and pains. The other half of the group took a placebo for 6 weeks instead of Ibuprofen.
After only 2 weeks into the study, the men taking the Ibuprofen showed hormonal changes. Fortunately, their testosterone levels did not decrease, but their levels of another hormone, called luteinizing hormone (LH), increased. At the end of the study, their LH levels were even higher.
LH is produced by the pituitary gland situated near the brain. The pituitary gland is like the master controller of the hormones of the body, and when the pituitary secretes more LH, it means it is trying to get the testes to make more testosterone. But in the men taking Ibuprofen their testes did not produce more. This put the men into a condition called “compensated hypogonadism”, which typically occurs in older men whose testicles are losing their potency.
Compensated hypogonadism can lead to a loss of libido and muscle mass, erection problems, depression, and thinning of the bones. However, the researchers believe that in these younger men, once they stop the Ibuprofen, that their testicles would return to normal.
Don’t take Ibuprofen?
This study does not mean that men should avoid all ibuprofen. The men in the study were taking Ibuprofen daily in a fairly high dose. The authors suggest that if a man is in a period where he wants to father a child, he should minimize his use of Ibuprofen, and take it only when really necessary. And since alternative medications such as aspirin or acetaminophen are suspected to cause the same problem, the best approach is to avoid pain medications in general during the times a man wants to maximize his fertility potential.
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