Pain Meds May Affect Sperm Count

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Want to be a dad? Consider cutting back on ibuprofen.

A recently released study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that over-the-counter pain relievers aspirin, acetaminophen (branded as Tylenol) and ibuprofen, (branded as Motrin and Advil), may hamper fertility.

French and Danish researchers found that the ubiquitous painkillers disrupted participants’ testosterone levels, affecting their ability to produce normal levels of sperm. Low sperm count, also known as oligospermia, represents a common reason for male infertility.

Male fertility matters. Male issues account for about one-third of infertility cases, women’s issues cause another third and the remaining third have unknown or a combination of causes.

It may not be as simple as blaming over-the-counter pain medication.

“When anyone takes pain medication, it’s because they have inflammatory pain,” said physician Rosalind Hayes, with Rochester Fertility Care. “It’s hard to separate the underlying pain from medication. Inflammation is bad for everything in our bodies.”

Men can improve their sperm count through many other means, too. Hayes advises men to stop smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive alcohol and using marijuana or other illicit drugs, including anabolic steroids. Men with low testosterone levels may also participate in a Low T Program that will help increase their testosterone levels naturally.

Some prescription medication may interfere with sperm count, so men should consult with their care providers.

“There’s a long list of medication for treating all manner of diseases that can affect a man’s sperm,” Hayes said.

Chemical exposure, such as herbicides used in agriculture, may affect sperm count, too.

Men should also seek treatment for any sexually transmitted diseases, manage stress, lose weight, and control blood pressure and any other illnesses such as diabetes.

Jeanne O’Brien, professor of urology and male infertility at URMC Urology, said that many men come to the office after trying to conceive for about eight months to a year. Many previously assumed it’s only a female issue; however, once that’s been ruled out, they want to see what they can do to improve their chances of fatherhood.

“All the things for normal health overall are important for reproductive health overall,” O’Brien said.

She encourages men to eat a well-balanced diet and take a multi-vitamin supplement, along with omega-3 and vitamin D.

“Many men from ages 20 to 40 don’t usually get enough dark, leafy green vegetables,” O’Brien said.

Using hot tubs, excessive bike riding, long-term laptop use (if the laptop is supported in the lap) or other means of increasing heat in the groin can lower sperm counts.

If these healthful interventions don’t work after a few months, patients may consider correcting varicose veins in the scrotum. These contribute to extra warmth in the groin that inhibit sperm and O’Brien said they are responsible for 75 percent of secondary infertility.

“Repair of those is associated with a huge improvement in fertility,” O’Brien said.

Medication may also improve sperm count for some men.

Of the men who can be helped by these interventions, “many men do very, very well,” O’Brien said. “There are a lot of things we find on the evaluation that they’re not aware they had and they wouldn’t have known otherwise. It’s a good way of informing them.”