Painkillers taken during pregnancy are harmful to children’s fertility

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Taking paracetamol and ibuprofen during pregnancy could be harmful for the future fertility of children, says a new study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Ovarian tissues exposed to paracetamol for one week had more than 40% fewer reproductive cells in the study. This new work reminds us that the use of analgesics, including the most common, during pregnancy are not without risk.

The study, published in the medical journal Environmental Health Perspectives, looked at the effects of the two common pain medications — paracetamol and ibuprofen — particularly on the fertility of unborn babies. To do this, researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, used human tissue samples and performed tests on laboratory mice.

After a week of exposure to analgesics, the study authors observed a reduction in the number of germ cells responsible for the production of spermatozoa and oocytes in human fetal tissues.

The authors of the study highlight the risk for girls to be born with a decreased egg stock, “which could lead to early menopause”: the ovarian tissues exposed to paracetamol for a week had more than 40% fewer of the cells that are responsible for reproduction. “After exposure to ibuprofen, the cell stock was almost halved,” the study said.

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In boys, the risk of exposure to analgesics, although lower, is not trivial: a reduction of about 25% in sperm producing cells after exposure to paracetamol or ibuprofen was found. In mice grafted with human fetal testicular tissues, sperm-producing cell stock decreased by 17% after a few days and by about one-third after one week of treatment.

Exposure to paracetamol or ibuprofen would trigger changes in DNA structure or the “epigenetic marks,” the scientists say. This mechanism would explain, according to them, the transmission of the effects of analgesics to subsequent generations.

According to current recommendations, paracetamol should be used at very low doses during pregnancy and for short periods of time. And ibuprofen should be avoided during pregnancy, the study concludes.

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Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.