A new study from a team of researchers in Denmark and France suggests that regular, prolonged use of the common painkiller ibuprofen in men could potentially lead to hypogonadism, a disorder which can, in severe cases, lead to infertility.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was fairly small. Researchers gave 14 men between the ages of 18 and 35 three tablets of ibuprofen a day for six weeks, and 17 others were given a placebo. Although overall testosterone levels in the blood remained stable in all the men, after just two weeks, researchers found hormonal imbalances in those who were taking the ibuprofen. There found an increase in luteinizing hormones, which stimulate the body’s testosterone production. This suggested that something in the painkiller was causing problems in the testicles, and preventing them from producing testosterone.
In order to compensate for this, the pituitary gland produced more of another hormone which boosts testosterone production. This meant that testosterone levels remained constant but, according to MedicalXpress.com “the body was overstressing to compensate for the detrimental impact of the Ibuprofen — a state called compensated hypogonadism.”
Compensated hypogonadism can lead to a reduction in the body’s production of sperm cells and reduced fertility, as well as depression and an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Though experts believe these effects are reversible, over an extended period of time, the condition can evolve into overt primary hypogonadism, a more serious condition whose symptoms include “reduction in libido, muscle mass, and mood changes.”
Researchers acknowledge that their study was small, and further research is needed. And as Erma Z. Drobnis, an associate professional practice professor of reproductive medicine and fertility at the University of Missouri, Columbia, told CNN, fertility research on one of the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs is overdue.
“Larger clinical trials are warranted,” she said. “This is timely work that should raise awareness of medication effects on men and potentially their offspring.”