Paracetamol use in pregnancy can cut female fertility, study finds

January 27, 2016
Tylenol 500 mg capsules. Credit: Wikipedia

Using painkillers in pregnancy may reduce fertility in subsequent generations, research suggests.

Tests in found that when a mother was given during pregnancy, her female offspring had fewer eggs, smaller ovaries and smaller litters of babies than those not exposed to the drugs.

Exposed male offspring were also found to be affected at birth - showing smaller numbers of cells that give rise to sperm in later life. However, their reproductive function recovered to normal levels by the time they reached adulthood.

Researchers say the findings are significant given the similarities between the reproductive systems of rats and humans, although it is difficult to directly extrapolate these results to pregnant women.

The team recommends that should stick with current guidelines to use painkillers at the lowest possible dose, for the shortest possible time.

Scientists tested the effects of two painkillers in pregnant rats - paracetamol and a prescription-only painkiller called indomethacin, which belongs to the same class of drugs as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Rats were given the drugs over the course of several days - four days for indomethacin or nine days for paracetamol. The effects of the drugs were seen within one to four days of the start of treatment. Scientists say that because the pace of foetal development in humans is slower than it is in rats, it is hard to say from this study how this would translate in human use.

In addition to affecting a mother's immediate offspring, the study showed that painkillers taken in pregnancy also affected the subsequent generation of rats.

The team found that the resulting females - the granddaughters of the mother given painkillers in pregnancy - also had reduced ovary size and altered .

Scientists say the results suggest that some painkillers may affect the development of the cells that give rise to eggs and sperm - called germ cells - while a foetus is in the womb.

This may be because the painkillers act on hormones called prostaglandins. These are known to regulate female reproduction and control ovulation, the menstrual cycle and the induction of labour.

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. It was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

Prof Richard Sharpe, who co-led the study at the University of Edinburgh's MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, said the results follow previous research that indicates painkillers should be used with caution during pregnancy.

He said: "It's important to remember that this study was conducted in rats not humans, however, there are many similarities between the two reproductive systems. We now need to understand how these drugs affect a baby's reproductive development in the womb so that we can further understand their full effect."

Prof Richard Anderson, Elsie Inglis Professor of Clinical Reproductive Science at the University of Edinburgh, who co-led the study, said: "These studies involved the use of painkillers over a relatively long period. We now need to explore whether a shorter dose would have a similar effect, and how this information can be usefully translated to human use. "

Explore further: Paracetamol in pregnancy may lower testosterone in unborn boys

Related Stories

Paracetamol in pregnancy may lower testosterone in unborn boys

May 20, 2015
Prolonged paracetamol use by pregnant women may reduce testosterone production in unborn baby boys, research has found.

BPA exposure affects fertility in next three generations of mice

April 15, 2015
When scientists exposed pregnant mice to levels of bisphenol A equivalent to those considered safe in humans, three generations of female mouse offspring experienced significant reproductive problems, including declines in ...

Male offspring get the most benefit from pregnant mother's exercise

April 8, 2015
Male offspring appear to benefit more than females from the positive effects of exercise during pregnancy, an animal study by UNSW medical researchers has found.

Exposure to endocrine disruptors during pregnancy affects the brain two generations later

March 5, 2015
Prenatal exposure to low doses of the environmental contaminants polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, change the developing brain in an area involved in metabolism, and some effects are apparent even two generations later, ...

Painkillers often gateway to heroin for US teens: survey

December 30, 2015
(HealthDay)—Three-quarters of U.S. high school students who use heroin first tried narcotic painkillers, a new survey reveals.

Fetal programming of disease risk to next generation depends on parental gender

June 4, 2011
Overexposure to stress hormones in the womb can program the potential for adverse health effects in those children and the next generation, but effects vary depending on whether the mother or father transmits them, a new ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests ending opioid epidemic will take years

July 20, 2017
The question of how to stem the nation's opioid epidemic now has a major detailed response. A new study chaired by University of Virginia School of Law Professor Richard Bonnie provides extensive recommendations for curbing ...

Team-based model reduces prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent

July 17, 2017
A new, team-based, primary care model is decreasing prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent, according to a new study out of Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, which ...

Private clinics' peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical

July 7, 2017
Stem cell science is an area of medical research that continues to offer great promise. But as this week's paper in Science Translational Medicine highlights, a growing number of clinics around the globe, including in Australia, ...

Popular heartburn drugs linked to higher death risk

July 4, 2017
Popular heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have been linked to a variety of health problems, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. Now, a new study from Washington University School ...

Most reproductive-age women using opioids also use another substance

June 30, 2017
The majority of reproductive-age and pregnant women who use opioids for non-medical purposes also use at least one other substance, ranging from nicotine or alcohol to cocaine, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate ...

At-risk chronic pain patients taper opioids successfully with psychological tools

June 28, 2017
Psychological support and new coping skills are helping patients at high risk of developing chronic pain and long-term, high-dose opioid use taper their opioids and rebuild their lives with activities that are meaningful ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gettingwell
not rated yet Jan 29, 2016
I'm puzzled when researchers don't take one more step, and design a great study. The researchers knew that a F3 third generation was needed to at least demonstrate the impact on F2 fertility. A F3 generation could have also provided evidence for or against transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.
http://surfaceyou...ealself/

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.