Painkillers during pregnancy can hurt even your grand children. Here’s how
Taking painkillers during pregnancy should be strictly avoided, say experts. Now, a new study suggests that taking drugs such as paracetamol could affect the fertility of your future generations, by leaving a mark on the DNA.health Updated: Apr 16, 2018 12:28 IST
If you are pregnant, take painkillers such as paracetamol and others with extreme caution. And avoid ibuprofen, totally. Adding to the vast body of evidence on paracetamol - also known as acetaminophen -- a new study, conducted by the University of Edinburgh, now suggests that taking painkillers during pregnancy could affect the fertility of the unborn child in later life. What is even more alarming, the study concluded, is that such drugs if taken during pregnancy could have a devastating effect on the fertility of future generations as well, by leaving their mark on the DNA. Many studies in the past have concluded that painkillers like Ibuprofen, acetaminophen can influence your emotions.
In 2010, Danish researchers had suggested that prolonged use of painkillers could pose a health risk for baby boys in the future. The team, which included experts from Denmark, Finland and France, studied more than 2,000 pregnant women and their babies, and had concluded that women who used more than one painkiller simultaneously, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, had a 7-fold increased risk of giving birth to sons with some form of undescended testes, or cryptorchidism, compared to women who took nothing. The second trimester -- 14 to 27 weeks of pregnancy -- appeared to be a particularly sensitive time.
In the latest research, the team looked at the effects of paracetamol and ibuprofen on samples of human fetal testes and ovaries. They found similar effects using several different experimental approaches, including lab tests on human tissue samples and animal studies. Human tissues exposed to either drug for one week in a dish had reduced numbers of cells that give rise to sperm and eggs, called germ cells, the study found.
“Human ovarian explants exposed to 10 and 100 μM ibuprofen showed reduced cell number, less proliferating cells, increased apoptosis and a dramatic loss of germ cell number, regardless of the gestational age of the fetus. Significant effects were observed after 7 days of exposure to 10 μM ibuprofen. At this concentration, apoptosis was observed as early as 2 days of treatment, along with a decrease in M2A-positive germ cell number. These deleterious effects of ibuprofen were not fully rescued after 5 days of drug withdrawal,” wrote Rod Mitchell, who led the research, in his submission.
Ovaries exposed to paracetamol for one week had more than 40% fewer egg-producing cells. After ibuprofen exposure, the number of cells was almost halved. Experts say this is important because girls produce all of their eggs in the womb, so if they are born with a reduced number it could lead to an early menopause.
Painkiller exposure during development could have effects on unborn boys too, the study found. Testicular tissue exposed to painkillers in a culture dish had around a quarter fewer sperm-producing cells after exposure to paracetamol or ibuprofen. The scientists found that exposure to paracetamol or ibuprofen triggers mechanisms in the cell that make changes in the structure of DNA, called epigenetic marks. These 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, which have key functions in the ovaries and testes, the researchers found. The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
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