It is one of the most frequently used, over-the-counter products in the United States; it's so common within the lifting community, it’s been called “bodybuilder candy”. Sixty million Americans take it daily. There’s just one catch.
The pain-killer Ibuprofen may be devastating your testosterone levels, increasing your risk of heart attack, and giving you the testicles of a 65-year-old man -- and the damage begins as early as the first two weeks of use.
Put more eloquently, a study published Monday found Ibuprofen has a significant, negative impact on testosterone and testicular health. Think we're overselling it? The researchers matter-of-factly titled their report: "Ibuprofen Alters Human Testicular Physiology to Produce a State of Compensated Hypogonadism".
When taking ibuprofen in doses commonly used by athletes, the young men studied developed a hormonal condition that typically begins, if at all, during middle age. This condition is linked to reduced fertility, lower sperm count, and testosterone levels commonly seen in the elderly.
We don’t mean to come off as alarmist, but the implications are, well… pretty damn alarming. The findings are supported by several additional, well-respected studies, and the results were troubling enough to make the rare leap from nerdy, scientific journals to major news, with Fox, NBC, CBS, USA Today, and others reporting on it this week.
Advil and Motrin are two brand names for the pain reliever (and surprisingly effective testosterone-killer) ibuprofen.
The new study is a continuation of research that began with pregnant women, explained Bernard Jégou, co-author and director of the Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health in France.
Their previous experiments determined that when aspirin, acetaminophen (sold under the brand name Tylenol) or ibuprofen were taken during pregnancy, all three negatively affected the testicles of male babies. Testicles not only produce sperm, they secrete testosterone, the primary male sex hormone.
All three drugs are "anti-androgenic," meaning they disrupt male hormones, explained David M. Kristensen, study co-author and a senior scientist in the Department of Neurology at Copenhagen University Hospital.
The three drugs even increased the likelihood that male babies would be born with congenital malformations (birth defects), Kristensen noted.
Knowing this, "we wondered what would happen in adult males," he said. They focused their investigation on ibuprofen, which had the strongest effects.
So, are there health consequences for athletes who routinely use ibuprofen?
The research team recruited 31 male volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35. Of these, 14 were given a daily dosage of ibuprofen that many professional and amateur athletes take: 600 milligrams twice a day, explained Jégou. (This 1200-mg-per-day dose is the maximum limit as directed by the labels of generic ibuprofen products.) The remaining 17 volunteers were given a placebo.
For the men taking ibuprofen, within 14 days, their luteinizing hormones -- which are secreted by the pituitary gland and stimulate the testicles to produce testosterone -- became coordinated with the level of ibuprofen circulating in their blood. At the same time, the ratio of testosterone to luteinizing hormones decreased, a sign of dysfunctional testicles.
This hormonal imbalance produced compensated hypogonadism, a condition associated with low testosterone, impaired fertility, depression and increased risk for cardiovascular events, including heart failure and stroke.
For the small group of young study participants who used ibuprofen for only a short time, "it is sure that these effects are reversible," Jégou said. However, it's unknown whether the health effects of long-term ibuprofen use are reversible, he said.
After this randomized, controlled clinical trial, the research team experimented with "little bits of human testes" provided by organ donors (lucky them, right?) and then conducted test tube experiments on the endocrine cells, called Leydig and Sertoli cells, which produce testosterone, explained Jégou.
The point was to remove any doubt, "in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro" -- in the living body, outside the living body and in the test tube -- that ibuprofen has a direct, harmful effect on the testicles and testosterone production.
"We wanted to understand what happened after exposure (to ibuprofen) going from the global human physiology over to the specific organs, down to the endocrine cells producing testosterone," Kristensen said.
Now, someone will point out – “If all this is true, shouldn’t there be some huge, unexplained drop in testosterone since ibuprofen hit the market?”
Meanwhile, a recent analysis published in the journal Human Reproduction Update found that sperm counts of men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are plunging. Researchers recorded a 52% decline in sperm concentration and a 59% decline in total sperm count over a nearly 40-year period ending in 2011…
Erma Z. Drobnis, an associate professional practice professor of reproductive medicine and fertility at the University of Missouri, Columbia, noted that most drugs are not evaluated for their effects on human male hormones or fertility before marketing.
Because why would anyone care about a trivial thing like that? (*Face palm*)