January 10, 2018

Complete balls

The UK’s Metro magazine has a dramatic story under the headline Popping ibuprofen could make your balls shrivel up

Got a pounding headache?

You might just want to give a big glass of water and a nap a go before reaching for the painkillers. Scientists warn that ibuprofen could be wrecking men’s fertility by making their balls shrivel up.

Sounds pleasant.

Fortunately, that’s not what the study showed.

The story goes on

Researchers looked at 31 male participants and found that taking ibuprofen reduced production of testosterone by nearly a quarter in the space of around six weeks.

That’s also almost completely untrue. In fact, the research paper says (emphasis added)

We investigated the levels of total testosterone and its direct downstream metabolic product, 17β-estradiol. Administration of ibuprofen did not result in any significant changes in the levels of these two steroid hormones after 14 d or at the last day of administration at 44 d. The levels of free testosterone were subsequently analyzed by using the SHBG levels. Neither free testosterone nor SHBG levels were affected by ibuprofen.

Stuff has a much better take on this one:

Men who take ibuprofen for longer than the bottle advises could be risking their fertility, according to a new study.

Researchers found that men who took ibuprofen for extended periods had developed a condition normally seen in elderly men and smokers that, over time, can lead to fertility problems

Ars Technica has the more accurately boring headline Small study suggests ibuprofen alters testosterone metabolism.

The study involved 14 men taking the equivalent of six tablets a day of ibuprofen for six weeks (plus a control group). Their testosterone levels didn’t change, but the interesting research finding is that this was due to compensation for what would otherwise have been a decrease. That is, a hormone signalling to increase testosterone production was elevated.  There’s a potential risk that if the men kept taking ibuprofen at this level for long enough, the compensation process might give up. And that would potentially lead to fertility problems — though not (I don’t think) to the problems Metro was worried about.

So, taking ibuprofen for months on end without a good reason? Probably inadvisable. Like it says on the pack.



Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »

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