Guys, did you know you could be unknowingly affecting your chances of healthy conception with your wife/partner by taking the wrong type of medication? Your prescription and over-the-counter drugs could be affecting your fertility health. Acid blockers, pain medications, steroids, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants are just a few examples of drugs that can affect a man’s fertility and sexual health.
Common Medication & Their Fertility Impact
Here are a few commonly used medications, how they work and how they may impact male fertility.
1. Acid Blockers (Proton Pump Inhibitors): If you have chronic heartburn or GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease), you may have tried one or more of these types of drugs for relief. Acid blockers are widely available by prescription and over-the-counter. For the best results, men are suggested to take these drugs daily, not on as “as needed” basis like antacids.
Acid blocking medications help fight chronic heartburn, but they do so with a cost. A population study from the Netherlands suggests that long-term use (6-12 months) increases pH of the stomach and may lead to a decline in sperm quality in men who are planning to build families.
Chronic heartburn and GERD are clear signs of a digestive system out of balance. They are routinely triggered by overeating, eating too many acid-forming foods, and bacterial (H. pylori) overgrowth. Healthy digestion is an important part of overall health and fertility. Disrupting natural stomach pH balance can have deeply reaching effects in the body, and could be a hidden culprit in a fertility health concern.
Natural therapies to learn more about are:
- bitter herbs – For men with heartburn, bitter herbs like Gentian (Gentiana Lutea), Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) or Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) taken before meals can help stimulate natural gastric activity and reduce heartburn.
- digestive enzymes – Another option that can help men with reflux is to try digestive enzymes. Further, a gradual shift to a plant-based diet with alkalizing foods can eliminate heartburn altogether for some men. Controlling portions sizes is another key to improving heartburn in men who tend to overeat when under stress.
2. Anabolic Steroids (Testosterone, Anabolic Androgenic Steroids): Anabolic steroids can help men build muscles and increase sports performance, but their use is known to have side effects that impact fertility. Anabolic steroids can damage and weaken the cardiovascular system and cause a major dip in sperm production. Some anabolic steroids, taken in high doses, even cause the testicles to shrink.
Testosterone is an anabolic steroid that is popular today, especially with older men, who struggle with fatigue, low libido or weight gain. While some men benefit from short term TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy), be aware that it can lower fertility by decreasing the natural production of LH (Luteinizing Hormone) and FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) involved in sperm production.
The good news is that research finds fertility is often restored around 6 months after discontinuing steroid drugs. Additionally, there are many options to naturally boost testosterone and improve male fertility without the damaging effects of steroid drugs.
3. Strong Pain Medications (Opioids): Effective short term for relieving pain caused by illness, injuries or surgery, pain-management drugs present dangers over the long term and can affect male fertility. Opioid painkillers attach to receptors in the brain, blocking pain and producing a deep sense of relaxation. Opiate overuse, addiction and overdose are growing problems in modern society. While we need options to address pain, it’s critical to understand that opioid painkillers should not be taken carelessly and there are much safer alternatives that won’t harm your fertility.
Research finds long-term use of opiate medications disrupts testosterone production, and may decrease the quality and quantity of sperm. For men with no other known cause of a fertility issue, discontinuing opiate medication (with guidance from a physician) could lead to restored fertility. Additionally, natural pain management therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, and physical therapy can help relieve pain safely, while strengthening the body and preserving fertility.
4. Blood Pressure Medications (Beta Blockers, Ace Inhibitors): High blood pressure is one of the most common health issues in the U.S. High blood pressure that cannot be controlled with diet, stress management, and exercise is regularly treated with drugs like Beta Blockers and Ace Inhibitors. High blood pressure medications work by relaxing the blood vessels or by blocking the effects of epinephrine (adrenaline), causing the heart to beat more slowly.
Blood pressure medications regularly affect libido and can cause erectile dysfunction. Research from Stanford University suggests high blood pressure drugs (Beta Blockers, Ace Inhibitors) may decrease semen volume, concentration and mobility, too. (Note: Calcium channel blocker drugs are not associated with decreased fertility.)
For many men, natural therapies like meditation, exercise or healthy diet changes (low salt, no caffeine, plant-based) can rebalance blood pressure. For others, genetics may play a role and medical treatment may be necessary. If you’re affected, discuss the best options with your physician for your fertility and sexual health.
5. Antidepressants (SSRIs): Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) can help men manage depression, but they come with many side effects. Antidepressants work by altering brain chemistry and increasing levels of “feel good” chemicals like serotonin. These are very complex medications and people react to them in drastically different ways. Some men may feel better on antidepressants while others may experience worsened symptoms.
Antidepressants are well known to decrease libido (in men and woman), and they can affect normal ejaculation. Early research suggests some SSRI drugs (used to reduce premature ejaculation) may affect sperm health or prevent the proper movement of sperm through the reproductive tract.
If you’re taking antidepressants, find out if they could affect your reproductive health. If so, ask your physician if there are safer alternatives like behavioral or lifestyle therapies. Our guide, The Natural Guide to Infertility and Depression, can help you take important steps to feel better despite the struggle.
Stay Informed. Read the Small Print.
There are times in life when using a prescription or over the counter medication may be necessary to stabilize a health concern. However, keep in mind that most drugs work by blocking normal body processes and that all drugs have side effects.
Many medications affect male fertility, sperm health, and normal sexual function. In addition to the medications discussed in this article, chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer can be especially damaging to fertility. If you’re planning to build a family and using prescription medications, talk to your doctor about the best fertility options for your future.
Stay informed about all the therapies you’re using, natural and medical. Talk to your doctor if you have questions. If you’re using a suspect medication, explore other options to help preserve natural fertility as you work towards your goal of building a family.
- Huijgen, N.A., et al. (2016, Dec.). Are proton-pump inhibitors harmful for the semen quality of men in couples who are planning pregnancy? Fertility & Sterility. Volume 106, Issue 7, Pages 1666–1672. Retrieved from: http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(16)62800-5/fulltext
- Drugs and Male Fertility. (2017). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/drugs-and-male-fertility
- Nonacs, R. (2014, March). SSRI Antidepressants & Male Fertility. Retrieved from: https://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/ssri-antidepressants-male-fertility/
- Safarinejad M.R., et al. (2013, April). The effects of opiate consumption on serum reproductive hormone levels, sperm parameters, seminal plasma antioxidant capacity and sperm DNA integrity. Reproductive Toxicology. 36:18-23. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623812003474?via%3Dihub
- Fernandez, C. (2016, Oct.) Do You Have High Blood Pressure? Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3850580/Do-high-blood-pressure-affecting-fertility-Common-drugs-reduce-chances-having-baby-10.html