A New Study Says This Common Medication Might Lead to Infertility

We often take our daily and supplemental medications and give little thought to the adverse effects they could have on our body. While most are harmless, recent studies show that some medications potentially lead to life-changing conditions down the line.
Ibuprofen, the drug in question, has been linked to male infertility. Let’s explore the study, what you need to know about the issue, and the question on everyone’s mind: Should you be worried?

The study

Woman looking at ultrasound results with doctor.

These studies began with pregnant women. | Chris Ryan/Getty Images

The new study is actually part of an ongoing research project. Bernard Jégou, a co-author of the study and the director of the Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health in France, revealed that the research originated with studies on pregnant women.

Their earlier experiments were published in multiple papers, while the study in question was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When the researchers found that all of the medications affected the testicles of male babies, they began to focus on the potential effect that ibuprofen, the most powerful, could have on adult males.

Next: The results of the study shed light on ibuprofen’s effects.

The results


Ibuprofen is anti-androgenic. | iStock.com

According to David M. Kristensen, a co-author on the study, all three pain relievers are “anti-androgenic,” or disrupt male hormones. Out of 31 studied male participants, the team gave 14 a daily dose of ibuprofen and the remaining 17 a placebo pill.

The scientists noticed that the 14 who were taking ibuprofen experienced a decrease in their ratio of testosterone to luteinizing hormones — a sign of “dysfunctional testicles.” They recognized a hormonal imbalance called hypogonadism, or a condition with complications including impaired fertility, erectile dysfunction, and a decreased sex drive, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Next: Here’s how it could affect you.

Should you be worried?

bottle pouring pills

If you’re planning to conceive, stop taking ibuprofen. | iStock.com/theevening

Jégou assured CNN that “these effects are reversible” for the 13 men who were administered ibuprofen for a short period of time. However, as far as long-term ibuprofen use goes, he couldn’t be so sure.

Erma Z. Drobnis, an associate professional practice professor of reproductive medicine and fertility at the University of Missouri, Columbia, offered her knowledge on the subject. “There is evidence that some medications are particularly harmful to the male reproductive system, including testosterone, opioids, antidepressants … ” she said. Drobnis advised that men who are planning to conceive avoid the drug for a few months. Both Drobnis and Jégou agreed that further studies are necessary to conclude the extent of the effects of ibuprofen on male fertility.

Next: Some information on male infertility.

What to know about male infertility

couple meeting with a female doctor

Infertility is more common than you might think. | iStock

It may be more prevalent than you think. According to the World Health Organization, around one in four couples “of reproductive age in developing countries” fails to conceive after five years of attempts.

A different study found that nearly 15% of the couples worldwide were infertile, with a separate study revealing men were the only infertile partner in 30% of infertility cases.

Next: Ibuprofen isn’t just detrimental to your fertility.

Ibuprofen is also linked to a higher risk of heart problems

Ibuprofen has been linked to heart attacks and strokes for over a decade. | Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke according to Harvard Health Publishing.

According to the FDA, even short-term use of these drugs can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, and the risk increases based on the amount you take and how long you take it for. People who already have heart disease are at the greatest risk of exacerbating their problems.

Next: Experts offer their opinions.

What the experts are saying

Doctor with an apple

While doctors stand behind the results, drug manufacturers aren’t happy. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association is a trade group which represents the manufacturers of  OTC medications like ibuprofen. A spokesman, Mike Tringale, said the association, “supports and encourages continued research and promotes ongoing consumer education to help ensure safe use of OTC medicines.”

He also said, on behalf of the group, “The safety and efficacy of active ingredients in these products has been well documented and supported by decades of scientific study and real-world use.” CNN contacted both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Advil and Motrin (two brand-name ibuprofen) for comment, but the CNN article didn’t indicate any response.

Next: This is only the beginning.

Researchers aren’t stopping here

scientist loads liquid sample into test tube

Doctors will continue to research the risks of over-the-counter medicine. | iStock.com/anyaivanova

While the study provides great insight into a potentially harmful side effect of everyday pain relievers like ibuprofen, both the studies’ authors and experts alike believe that further research is necessary to make a conclusive decision on the drug’s effects.

“This is timely work that should raise awareness of medication effects on men and potentially their offspring,” Drobnis said. Jégou agreed, noting, “the alarm has been raised now … if this serves to remind people that we are really dealing with medical drugs — not with things which are not dangerous — this would be a good thing.”

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