A new study has suggested that regularly taking ibuprofen could negatively affect the testicular health of males.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark recruited 31 men aged between 18 and 35 and gave half of them a 600mg daily dose of the common over-the-counter painkiller for six weeks. This is equivalent to taking three tablets a day for the study period.
The rest of the group acted as a control and was given a placebo. It was found that within just 14 days, the men in the ibuprofen group had experienced an increase in luteinising hormones, which are responsible for regulating testosterone production. This suggests their bodies had been trying to compensate for a sudden decline in the hormone by producing more testosterone.
If this state continues for a long period of time, it could induce a condition called compensated hypogonadism that affects reproductive health by diminishing the functionality of the testicles and also leads to reduced libido, lower muscle mass and fatigue.
Biomedical researcher David Mobjerg Kristensen, lead author of the study, said in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that this is worrying given that many people use analgesics without thinking of them as proper medicines.
"Ibuprofen appears to be the preferred pharmaceutical analgesic for long-term chronic pain and arthritis. Therefore, it is also of concern that men ... may eventually progress to overt primary hypogonadism," he added.
Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to painkillers in the womb could be harmful to unborn babies, but this is the first time a negative effect has been demonstrated in adult males.
Although it should not be too much of an issue for those who reach for painkillers occasionally, ibuprofen is routinely used to help athletes with recurring sports injuries and for those with chronic pain trying to avoid the long-term use of opioids.
It may therefore be that pharmacists eventually see new warnings come into effect for analgesics to reflect the recent findings and ensure patients are aware of the potential risks.
Last year, a study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that total sperm counts in western countries fell by just under 60 per cent between 1973 and 2011.