Doing some digging for the truth about infertility in the news…

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t know that taking anti-inflammatory drugs can lower fertility.

I frequently had a sore back and aching shoulders when I was doing IVF. Just the general stress of infertility made me feel tense. I took anti-inflammatories more than a few times to ease the pain.
We know that we need to be more than usually careful with the things that go into our bodies when it’s fertility on the line. Because I’ll never know for sure if it was something I ate, drank, or didn’t eat or drink did that meant the IVF round wasn’t successful I feel under pressure to do everything perfectly – cut out coffee entirely, don’t let a drop of alcohol past my lips, don’t take cold and flu medication. I thought anti-inflammatories were ok.

Anti-inflammatories can increase infertility…I think…

But this recent article points out that “taking several common over the counter pain relievers, like Aleve, Motrin, and Advil, can increase a woman’s chances of being infertile by up to 75%”. This is a shocking figure! So shocking that I wanted to find the source and read more about it. But here’s the thing – I couldn’t find it. Anywhere!

I’m a trained librarian and researcher, so my surprise at not being able to find anything even mentioning such a study wasn’t just pure arrogance. I’m PAID to find things on the internet. If I can’t find it, it’s pretty hard to find.

Tracking down an infertility study on the internet

My first (lazy) search was for “Matthew Retzloff Advil Motrin infertility”. Nothing.

To put together a really good search, you have to get beyond the words, down to the concepts. There were three groups of concepts associated with this supposed paper: the researchers, the anti-inflammatory drugs and the link to infertility.

Maybe Dr. Retzloff wasn’t cited by his full name? So I looked for Retzloff only, to make sure I picked up any reference to M, Retzloff, Matt Retzloff, Dr Retzloff or Retzloff M, J. or even J. Retzloff.
I searched Google, Google Scholar, every science database I could get my hands on (one of the perks of working for a university, is that I’ve got pretty comprehensive access.) Nothing.

Maybe the research paper used a generic or scientific name for the drug? Advil, Motrin, etc. come from a family of drugs called “non-steroidal anti-inflammatories” or NSAIDs. The generic name for these drugs is Ibuprofen. “Ibuprofen belongs to a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs are used to manage inflammation, pain and fever. Pain, fever, and inflammation happen when the body releases a type of chemical called prostaglandin or cyclooxygenase and NSAIDs work by blocking these. I made my search a lot more technical. Still nothing.

Infertility in zebrafish…but not in humans.

I thought that maybe Retzloff hadn’t done the study. I removed that variable and just searched for “anti-inflammatory and infertility” By this time I was deep in the university databases. There were many, many articles about the effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on the fertility of shellfish (mussels), zebrafish, cows, horses and rats. But none in humans.

I had been limiting the search to the last five years, given that it was supposedly so ‘recent’. When I widened the search right out, I finally found SOMETHING relevant from 2004.

Robert J Norman and Ruijin Wu had written about “The potential danger of Cox-2 inhibitors” in 2004. Their paper, in Volume 81, Issue 3 of “Fertility and Sterility”, described how:
“Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors, a group of specific nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are widely used as anti-inflammatory agents and as analgesia for various disorders. There is evidence indicating that COX inhibitors have major effects on ovulation and other reproductive processes including fertilization, decidualization, implantation, and parturition (2), as well as a link to reversible female infertility.”
I gave up searching then. I wrote to the San Antonio Fertility Center to ask if they wouldn’t mind sharing the source for the article, but I haven’t heard back yet. Living in hope!

So what’s the moral of the story? Get your news direct from the experts!

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, I guess. Don’t do your fertility learning on websites; get it direct from your fertility specialist.

As for me, I found out that Dr. Matthew Retzloff has a truly impressive research record, just not on this specific topic. I found out way more than I wanted to know about shellfish and zebrafish fertility. And I found out that the link between anti-inflammatories and infertility isn’t a new one. In fact, it’s more than 10 years old. Breaking news? Hmmm.

P.S If anyone else can find the research that this article is based on, I’d be happy to be proved wrong!

Blogger: Louise Dougherty