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It’s tempting to reach for painkillers when you’ve got a pounding headache, but new research suggests that overusing ibuprofen could be affecting men’s fertility… By causing their testicles to shrink.

The small study, made up of just 31 male participants aged 18 to 35 years old, showed that taking ibuprofen increased the risk of compensated hypogonadism– a hormone imbalance whereby an individual has higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) than testosterone.

For the research, participants were split into two groups. one group received 600mg or ibuprofen twice a day two weeks before and 30 days after an exercise session while the other acted as a control group. For the ibuprofen group, blood tests showed an 18% decrease in testosterone after 14 days, rising to a 23% decrease after 44 days.

Low levels of testosterone make it difficult for a man to get a woman pregnant. Although cases of compensated hypogonadism usually only affect elderly people or smokers, it seems that the overuse of ibuprofen could also affect younger males. Dr David Kristensen, of Copenhagen University, said:

“Through a clinical trial with young men exposed to ibuprofen, we show that the analgesic resulted in the clinical condition named ‘compensated hypogonadism’ – a condition prevalent among elderly men and associated with reproductive and physical disorders. In the men, luteinizing hormone (LH) and ibuprofen plasma levels were positively correlated, and the testosterone/LH ratio decreased. Concern has been raised over increased male reproductive disorders in the Western world and the disruption of male hormones has been suggested to play a central role.”

He added:

“Several studies have shown mild analgesics exposure during foetal life is associated with anti-androgenic effects and congenital malformations. But the effects on the adult man remain largely unknown. Ibuprofen appears to be the preferred pharmaceutical analgesic for long-term chronic pain and arthritis. Therefore, it is also of concern that men with compensated hypogonadism may eventually progress to overt primary hypogonadism, which is characterised by low circulating testosterone and prevalent symptoms including reduced libido, reduced muscle mass and strength, and depressed mood and fatigue.”

Although a lot more research needs to be done before any concrete conclusions can be made, let this be a reminder that overusing medication – even shop-bought painkillers – can end up doing more harm than good.


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