Sperm counts of men living in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe are dropping at a shocking rate, with researchers reporting as much as a 59% decline in total sperm count over a 40-year period ending in 2011. For couples currently living with the reality of infertility, this number is staggering! It comes as no surprise, considering that startling data, that the fertility industry in the United States is currently valued at over $2 billion. With couples spending incredible amounts of money just for the chance to start their own families we have to ask, what are we doing that has resulted in such a dramatic loss in fertility for the male population?
Experts have explored a number of theories from the food we are eating to the clothes we wear, but one has recently caught the attention of researchers. Erma Z. Drobnis, PhD., an associate professional practice professor of reproductive medicine and fertility at the University of Missouri, Columbia explained that there is a significant problem overlooked in the testing process for medication today. While most medications are assessed for their impact on female fertility and pregnancy complications, the effects on male fertility are rarely investigated.
Drobnis explained, “There is evidence that some medications are particularly harmful to the male reproductive system, including testosterone, opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, immune modulators and even over-the-counter antacid cimetidine (Tagamet). However, prescribing providers rarely mention these adverse effects with patients when prescribing these medications.”
One such medication, experts are now reporting, is the commonly used NSAID ibuprofen. Often taken by high-level athletes as a preventative measure in an attempt to avoid pain and muscle soreness, a new study, published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ has discovered that regular use of the medication has been linked with decreased levels of fertility in men.
The study included 31 male volunteers aged 18 to 35. During the study 14 of the volunteers received 600 milligrams of ibuprofen twice daily, equivalent to the regular dosage taken by professional and amateur athletes. The other 17 participants received a placebo. Within 14 days researchers noticed a change in the luteinizing hormone (LH) of those taking the medication. LH is a hormone that is produced and released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for stimulating the production of testosterone in the testes. Testosterone is the hormone behind a number of ‘male’ characteristics such as the growth of facial hair and the deepening of the male voice. It is also responsible for stimulating sperm production.
The resulting hormone imbalance produces a condition called compensated hypogonadism. This can result in depression, reduced body hair and beard, loss of muscle, and increased risk for cardiovascular problems including stroke and heart failure.
As the initial test was relatively small in size, with only 31 participants, further research will be required to better understand the long-term effects, as well as whether or not the side effects can be reversed.