There is still much research to be done to determine if certain medications can affect male or female fertility, and if so, how much they can affect it. A study by the University of Edinburgh has found that in some instances of infertility, the medications taken by the biological mother during pregnancy might actually be accountable. The research, which was carried out by Dr. Sander van den Driesche and published in Science Translational Medicine in May of 2015, found that mice who experienced prenatal exposure to the painkiller acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, ended up with a lower production of testosterone. The research suggested that a single exposure wasn’t a problem, but taking the drug for a few days at a time could be.
The Myriad of Issues Caused by Low Testosterone: From Infertility to Cancer
Low testosterone can lead to many problems aside from infertility. When a male fetus starts out its life in conditions that can lead to low testosterone, the possibility of conditions like undescended testes being present at birth are much more likely.
Other possibilities, some of which may manifest later in life, include:
- Low sperm count
- Testicular germ cell cancer
According to Dr. Parviz Kavoussi, a reproductive urologist and male infertility specialist at Austin Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, “The main medications known to impact a man’s fertility in adulthood include testosterone replacement, which is the largest offender in the category, as well as other drugs that can impact a man’s hormonal/testosterone axis. Chemotherapy agents typical have a very harsh impact on sperm production as does hydroxyurea, a drug used for men with sickle cell anemia.”
The Study Details: A Xenograph Model
Researchers used a xenograph model to examine the drug’s effects. This is a complex procedure that involves taking bits of human fetal testes and transplanting them into mice that have undergone castration. This technique is used because it’s reflective of human physiological development but avoids some of the typical limits of animal testing.
During the study, the mice were treated three times a day with the standard dose of paracetamol for a week, which led to a 45 percent drop in testosterone levels and a 18 percent loss of weight in the seminal vesicle glands. However, it was found that a single exposure to the drug did not cause these effects.
“This is certainly an interesting and concerning association that has been made,” says Dr. Kavoussi. “There have been a handful of studies evaluating paracetamol’s potential impact on spermatogenesis, however, they have all been performed in basic science animal models. Translational human research has not been performed on men, so the question of the impact on male’s future fertility cannot be answered fully yet.”
In other words, further research needs to be done, but for now, the findings are enough for medical professionals to caution against the use of the drug while pregnant.
Risks versus Benefits: When Short-term Paracetamol Use is Worth it
It’s always best to avoid the use of over-the-counter drugs while pregnant when you can, but under certain circumstances, taking the drug might be your best bet. Although you should always consult your doctor for starting any medication while pregnant, experts agree that one or two doses of paracetamol can be beneficial when you have a fever. A heightened temperature can be dangerous for a developing embryo, increasing the risk of heart damage and other serious conditions.