Ibuprofen male infertility issue joins cardiac risk as painkiller concerns grow

Ibuprofen is a simple, inexpensive, easily purchased NSAID pain reliever, one often taken due to a combination of its perceived safety and over-the-counter availability. Ask the average person whether ibuprofen is dangerous and they'll likely say it is safe when used properly, but that may not be true. A growing number of studies shed light on concerning health issues that may arise from NSAIDs and ibuprofen in particular.

A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America reports a concerning effect ordinary over-the-counter ibuprofen has on male fertility. The common painkiller was found to depress testosterone production, causing study participants to develop a condition called "compensated hypogonadism."

Such a condition is the result of the body increasing testosterone production because the testes stop producing adequate levels of it. The painkiller users could potentially face prolonged low testosterone levels after the body loses its ability to compensate, leading to a host of health conditions including muscle weakness and loss, low fertility, and other issues.

The study states:

We report a univocal depression of important aspects of testicular function, including testosterone production, after use of over-the-counter ibuprofen. The study shows that ibuprofen use results in selective transcriptional repression of endocrine cells in the human testis. This repression results in the elevation of the stimulatory pituitary hormones, resulting in a state of compensated hypogonadism, a disorder associated with adverse reproductive and physical health disorders.

Perhaps more concerning is how quickly, relatively speaking, the volunteers developed this issue. The study looked at the effects on healthy young men, finding that it only took 600mg per day for two weeks for the condition to develop. That works out to three ibuprofen tablets per day if you're taking a typical 200mg/tablet product. Someone suffering from an injury or chronic pain could easily consume — and exceed — that dosage and duration.

Fortunately, the condition went away in the volunteers when they stopped taking the medication. However, researchers express worry that prolonged usage could lead to more permanent testosterone disruption, which could itself lead to serious health issues and the need for medical intervention.

This is only the latest in a growing body of evidence that NSAIDs and ibuprofen in particular may not be as harmless as thought. Earlier this year, a study was published that found ibuprofen was associated with a 31-percent increase in cardiac arrest risk among users. The research was conducted by the European Society of Cardiology, which looked at cardiac arrest patients in Denmark and their NSAID use.

Pregnant women are increasingly advised to avoid ibuprofen during late pregnancy because it has been associated with increased complications for both mother and baby, including decreased amniotic fluid and potential heart problems in the baby.

What kind of impact such studies could have on the availability of NSAIDs in the future is unclear. The highlighted cardiac and hormonal disruption risks point toward the need to be cautious with such medications, and anyone who is concerned should talk to their doctor about it before taking the medication.