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Paracetamol in pregnancy ‘risks boys’

Thursday May 21st, 2015

A woman who is pregnant with a boy may threaten her son's reproductive health by taking paracetamol repeatedly, according to findings published today.

Researchers in Edinburgh, UK, have linked taking the pill to reduce levels of testosterone in babies born later

A study by the University of Edinburgh, published last night, adds to the body of evidence that says long-term use of paracetamol in pregnancy may increase the risk of reproductive disorders in male babies, researchers say.

But doctors said the evidence was not yet strong enough to advise pregnant women to avoid paracetamol - known as acetaminophen in the USA - completely.

Testosterone is crucial for life-long male health and reduced exposure to the hormone in the womb has been linked to an increased risk of infertility, testicular cancer and undescended testicles.

Dr Rod Mitchell, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said their findings from a study of mice demonstrate that expectant mothers should follow existing guidelines for paracetamol use: take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, saw Dr Mitchell and his research team testing the effect of paracetamol on testosterone production in mice that carried grafts of human testicular tissue. The grafts mimic how the developing testes grow and function during pregnancy.

The mice were given a typical daily dose of paracetamol over either 24 hours or seven days and the amount of testosterone produced by the human tissue an hour after the final dose of paracetamol was measured.

The team found that there was no effect on testosterone production following 24 hours of paracetamol treatment.

However, after seven days of exposure the amount of testosterone was reduced by 45%.

Dr Mitchell said further research needs to be undertaken to establish the mechanism by which paracetamol might have this effect.

“This study adds to existing evidence that prolonged use of paracetamol in pregnancy may increase the risk of reproductive disorders in male babies,” he said. “We would advise that pregnant women should follow current guidance that the painkiller be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.”

Dr Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, from the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the research involved laboratory mice.

He said: “This is a robust piece of research, however, it is important to note that the study was carried out in animal models and it is not possible to translate the findings into a recommendation regarding what would be safe or unsafe in pregnant women. "

He added: “We recommend that pregnant women continue to follow current guidance and take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time when necessary."

The chair of the UK Royal College of GPs, Dr Maureen Baker, said: “Pregnant women who have been taking paracetamol to ease discomfort - either as prescribed by their doctor or self-medicated – should not panic as a result of this research.

"Existing evidence shows that, in the main, paracetamol is a safe drug for the majority of patients. But this study - and other recent studies - call this into question and it is important that we take new research into account and shape updated guidelines for healthcare professionals in the best interests of all patients."

Science Translational Medicine 20 May 2015

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Men's Health | Pain Relief | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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