Anti-depressants may be linked to male infertility, say researchers at the Cornell Medical Center in New York. Results of a study reported in the New Scientist this week reveal that males taking anti-depressants - also known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibiters (SSRIs) - could be damaging their sperm. The study was performed by Peter Schlegel and Cigdem Tanrikut on 35 health male participants who were given paroxetine, which is marketed as Paxil or Seroxat by GlaxoSmithKline. After four weeks of taking the medication, it was found on average the proportion of sperm that became fragmented (damaged) nearly doubled, rising from 13.8 percent to 30.3 percent.
Sperm damage has been linked to male infertility and it is believed may also contribute to a decrease in embryo viability, although in itself the results do not mean males taking SSRIs will encounter fertility problems. In an abstract of the study made available to Reuters, the authors said: 'The fertility potential of a substantial proportion of men on paroxetine may be adversely affected by these changes in sperm DNA integrity.' In 2006, nearly two million prescriptions for peroxetine were issued.
Doctors have warned that the study should not prevent individuals with depression from seeking or stopping medical intervention. 'Patients shouldn't stop their antidepressants, but those who are depressed and experiencing fertility difficulties may wish to discuss this with their GP,' said Steve Field, chairman of the UK's Royal College of General Practitioners. Other experts have questioned the significance of the findings because, although they may seem alarming, the clinical significance may be low. Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield, said that further research is needed. 'It is a shame that the authors appear not to have conducted a randomised controlled trial which would be the most scientific way to investigate the drugs' effects, but I agree that the results are of concern and need to be investigated further,' he said.
Glaxo told Reuters that it was reviewing its own findings on the drugs, as the study was not mandated by the company. A Glaxo spokeswoman said: 'These medicines remain an important option, in addition to counselling and lifestyle changes, for treatment of depression and this study should not be used to cause unnecessary concern for patients.' Other medical experts have highlighted that risks are in inherent part of taking medication. '[Anti-depressants] are powerful drugs, so in a sense it is no surprise that research is discovering more about their impact on the body,' said Dr Andrew McCulloch, of the Mental Health Foundation.
The research will be presented in full at the annual conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in November.