Should You Worry When You Take Ibuprofen?
Is anything good in excess? Most of us can make the argument that excess has its place in life: pets, shoes, cars, art, love. Others, like Mahatma Ghandi, prefer the ascetic existence in which material things are roundly denounced. Throughout history even the greats can’t agree about excess: Hippocrates espoused that “everything in excess is opposed to nature,” but Oscar Wilde felt that “moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” There must be a happy medium.
The Facts of the Case
There has recently been a whirlwind of talk about the effects of a commonly used anti-inflammatory pain pill called ibuprofen on testosterone balance in men. A nicely done study suggests that it can make you into an old man sooner than you would want. But is it true?
Lets look at the facts of the case. Thirty-one men received either ibuprofen 600mg twice daily (the equivalent of 3 over the counter pills twice a day) or placebo (sham pill) for 6 weeks. While they were taking the pills, a pile of reproductive hormones were checked regularly. What the researchers found was that total and free testosterone levels did not change a stitch. That’s right, they remained unwaiveringly normal. However, the signal that the brain sends to help make testosterone (LH) went up. This suggests that more gas (LH) was needed for the engine (testicle) to make testosterone. Interestingly, the hormone that tells the testicle to make sperm (FSH) was unchanged by ibuprofen.
Oh, You Want More?
To further examine the ibuprofen effect, they studied human testis tissue (from men averaging 50 years old) and a hormonally active cell line (adrenal cancer) in the laboratory and found that ibuprofen acts on the cells that make testosterone and impairs its production.
This study proves its point with several different lines of evidence and that is powerful stuff. However, to suggest that the effect of ibuprofen is similar to a “condition prevalent among elderly men” is, well, overinflated in my opinion.
Take a Deep Breath
Let’s put the ibuprofen-analgesic effect in perspective here. On one end of the spectrum, the prolonged use of opiate pain medications drops testosterone levels like a lead balloon, often to castrate levels. That can surely change your quality of life! But even caffeine, in whatever beverage you prefer, is thought to affect male reproduction. A recent Harvard study estimated that men who consume the equivalent of 2.5 espressos daily (265mg caffeine) have 1/5 the fertility potential of men who don’t. How does your coffee fix compare? And let’s not forget the profound effect of regular use of hot baths or tubs on reproduction that we published a decade or so back.
So what’s a guy to do? Like everything else in life, to stay healthy take all things in moderation. Treat your body like a temple, with respect and kindness. And when it comes to ibuprofen, like pretty much anything else: Take it sparingly, and only when you need it.