Using the painkiller paracetamol during pregnancy for prolonged periods of time could contribute to reproductive disorders in male babies.
Paracetamol, which is a painkiller commonly prescribed to pregnant women because of its presumed safety, may affect the hormones of babies in utero, according to a research.
While paracetamol (acetaminophen) has long been considered one of the safest painkillers that pregnant women can take, new studies are showing that extended continuous usage can reduce testosterone in developing testes by up to 45%.
It is also thought that these drugs may also affect the fertility of future generations, by leaving marks on DNA.
The findings add to the existing body of evidence that certain medicines, including paracetamol, should be used with caution during pregnancy.
Researchers stress that, if necessary, paracetamol should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. As a matter of fact, Ibuprofen should be avoided during pregnancy.
Group of researchers at the University of Edinburgh looked at the effects of paracetamol and ibuprofen on samples of human fetal testes and ovaries and found similar effects using several different experimental approaches, including laboratory tests on human tissue samples and animal studies.
Safety Of Paracetamol During Pregnancy
Paracetamol has been used by pregnant women for many years without any obvious harmful effects on the developing baby, making it be usually recommended as the first choice of painkiller for pregnant women.
Other painkillers, including those sold over the counter –OTC- painkillers have not been shown to be any safer than paracetamol, as some are not suitable for use during certain stages of pregnancy.
Although it is not possible to say that any medicine is completely safe to use in pregnancy, there is currently no clear evidence that paracetamol will harm your baby, but it is however generally recommended that women who are pregnant use the lowest dose of paracetamol that works. And they should use it for the shortest possible duration.
Paracetamol is sold both on its own and in combination with other medications, but It is important to make sure that the other medicines in combination products can be taken in pregnancy and that you do not take more than the daily recommended dose of the painkiller (paracetamol).
Painkiller exposure during development could have effects on unborn boys, as testicular tissue exposed to painkillers in a culture dish had around a quarter fewer sperm-producing cells after exposure to paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Studying The Effects
The effects of painkiller treatment on mice that carried grafts of human fetal testicular tissue were also tested, and the grafts were shown to mimic how the testes grow and function during development in the womb.
After just one day of treatment with a human-equivalent dose of paracetamol, the number of sperm-producing cells in the graft tissue had dropped by 17%, and after a week of drug treatment, there were almost one third fewer cells in the graft tissue.
Previous studies with rats have shown that painkillers administered during pregnancy led to a reduction in germ cells in female offspring, that later affected their fertility and the fertility of females in subsequent generations.
It is believed that exposure to paracetamol triggers mechanisms in the cell that make changes in the structure of DNA, called epigenetic marks. These epigenetic marks can be inherited, helping to explain how the effects of painkillers on fertility may be passed on to future generations.
Painkillers’ effects on germ cells are likely caused by their actions on molecules called prostaglandins. These molecules have key functions in the ovaries and testes.
Dr. Rod Mitchell, who led the research at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, adviced women to think carefully before taking painkillers in pregnancy and to follow existing guidelines (taking the lowest possible dose for the shortest time possible).
These studies described above do not provide convincing scientific evidence that taking paracetamol in pregnancy causes problems with learning and behavior in the child.
Furthermore, a number of doctors and scientists who are recognised experts in this subject have raised concerns about the quality of some of these studies, including the ways in which the information was composed and analysed, and the fact that other factors (such as the illness in the mother that paracetamol was being used to treat) could have caused the effects seen in children exposed in the womb to paracetamol.
Although it has been widely reported in the media that these studies have shown that paracetamol use in pregnancy causes behavioral problems in the child, many experts agree that the evidence is not good enough to draw such conclusions.
They suggest that much more research is required before we can say whether the differences in learning and behavior found in some of these studies are linked to paracetamol use in pregnancy.