Are popular pain relievers sabotaging male fertility?

But the sense of security that this easy access provides is about as false as it gets. As I’ve told you before, these OTC pain relievers are a major link to heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes in the US — in fact, they can increase your risk for having a major heart event by more than a third. For that reason alone, they should be handled with extreme caution. But, unfortunately, that’s not the only risk you run with routine use…

In fact, new research shows that ibuprofen also poses a threat to fertility in otherwise young, healthy men.

This study looked at 31 male volunteers — all between 18 and 35 years old. Roughly half received a 600 mg twice-daily dose of ibuprofen — a common dose for athletes, and the maximum dosage limit according to the labels of your typical generic bottles. The other half took a placebo.

Within just two weeks, the men taking ibuprofen daily saw their levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) rise along with blood levels of the drug. (LH originates in the pituitary gland and is the hormone responsible for stimulating testosterone production.)

Meanwhile, ratios of testosterone to LH plummeted, indicating a clear problem with testicle function. (And resulting in a condition called “compensated hypogonadism” — or “subclinical low T” — where very high levels of LH manage to just barely keep testosterone in the normal zone.)

Among the risks associated with compensated hypogonadism: infertility, depression, and higher risk of heart failure and stroke — all pretty significant conditions.

And it’s worth pointing out that this study comes on the heels of previous research that linked over-the-counter painkiller use among pregnant women to ADHD in their children. This research showed that intake of any of the three main OTC painkillers — acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen — had effects on the testicles of male babies.

These supposedly safe OTC pain drugs are “anti-androgenic” male hormone disruptors that suppress testosterone secretion. It’s the kind of nasty side effect you’d expect from pesticides and herbicides. But not from household names like Tylenol, Motrin, or Bayer, which you probably have in your medicine cabinet right now.

And with this latest research, it’s pretty clear that this particular complication isn’t limited to cases of fetal exposure. Healthy, grown men are very much at risk, too.

For the guys in this study, the effect on fertility is likely reversible. But what about men who pop these drugs like candy?

As I’ve warned here before, male fertility among Western populations is in the midst of a serious freefall. In fact, sperm counts have dropped by more than half over the 40 years leading up to 2011. Meanwhile, 15 percent of couples worldwide struggled with infertility in 2010 — and male fertility was compromised in half of these cases.

Of course, there are plenty of popular drugs that can contribute to this problem — opioids, antidepressants, and even some antacids. But it really is hard to imagine a more commonplace culprit than ibuprofen. And it’s important that men know what’s at stake.

Needless to say, if you or anyone you know is having difficulty getting pregnant, it’s time to clear out your medicine cabinet. And if you’re not planning a family? Well, clear out your medicine cabinet anyway.

Hypogonadism is a serious health hazard at any stage in your life. One that’s worth swearing off OTC pain drugs to avoid.