A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States seems to indicate that taking ibuprofen will lower the amount of testosterone a man produces. That might be true, but then people have taken it one step farther to say that the decrease in testosterone leads to infertility.
Dr. Lisa Hansard of Texas Fertility Center says making that assumption “is a big stretch.” What the study needed to look at to determine fertility levels is sperm count.
What the ibuprofen did is lower the luteinizing hormone level in these men. LH sparks testosterone production, but often when one level is low, the body will compensate by raising another hormone level, Hansard says.
“It’s really reaching,” she says. “The vast majority of men who have fertility issues don’t take ibuprofen and the vast majority of men that take ibuprofen don’t have fertility issues.”
Too much testosterone can be a bad thing. Often men will come to Hansard with infertility issues thinking that if they take supplements to boost their testosterone levels, that will solve the problem. In fact, some of those supplements might be causing the problem.
Male factor infertility — that’s infertility that is related to sperm — is the most common cause of infertility in couples, making up about 20 to 25 percent of infertility problems. Other causes can be structural issues in women, endometriosis, female hormone issues or unexplained causes.
Most studies have focused on female infertility. More needs to be done to understand male infertility, Hansard says.
When a couple comes to her, she looks at both people if the cause isn’t already known. If it is male factor infertility, then it’s about working with the sperm he does have by doing things like artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.
This isn’t the first time that ibuprofen and reproduction has been called into question. A study in rats showed that ibuprofen use in moms may have caused their male babies to not have testicles that descended. That study, though, hasn’t been replicated in humans.
“It’s really premature to try to connect those dots,” Hansard says.
What we do know about ibuprofen and fetuses is that it can cause a part of the heart to close up early, causing damage or even death.