Ibuprofen is one of the most common over-the-counter pain relievers used worldwide, and researchers have long warned users about the risk of heart attack and stroke associated with the drug. But scientists now believe that ibuprofen, commonly sold under brand names such as Motrin or Advil, could potentially result in male infertility.
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The new findings come from researchers in Denmark and France who examined the effect of the drug on a group of men between the ages of 18 and 35.
Thirty-one men were given the maximum limit of 600 milligrams, or three tablets, of the drug each day for six weeks, a dosage commonly used by athletes. Other study participants were administered a placebo.
In just two weeks, the researchers found the men who took ibuprofen had an increase of luteinizing hormones, which males use to regulate testosterone production. If men ever get this hormonal condition, it typically begins during middle age.
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At the same time, the ratio of testosterone to luteinizing hormones decreased — a sign of dysfunctional testicles.
"The increase indicated that the drug was causing problems in certain cells in the testicles, preventing them from producing testosterone, which is, of course, needed to produce sperm cells," Medical XPress reported.
As a result, the body’s pituitary gland responded by producing more of a different hormone, essentially compensating for ibuprofen’s effect on testosterone production. This phenomenon is called compensated hypogonadism, which can reduce sperm cell production and infertility, the scientists wrote. The condition is also associated with depression and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
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Because the small group of young male participants who took the drug only consumed it for a short time, "it is sure that these effects are reversible," Bernard Jegou, co-author of the study and director of the Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health in France, told CNN. Compensated hypogonadism can lead to a temporary reduction in sperm cell production, but that's not cause for alarm.
The larger concern, Jegou noted, is that using the drug for much longer periods of time could lead to a much more serious issue: overt primary hypogonadism, "in which the symptoms become worse -- sufferers report a reduction in libido, muscle mass and changes in mood."
The medical community, including the study authors, believe larger clinical trials are needed to understand ibuprofen’s effects on men using low doses of the drug and whether or not long-term effects are indeed reversible.
Read the full study, recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.