Could a common antibiotic be to blame for male infertility now—and in the generation to come?
Researchers from the University of Nevada found, in a study on spiders, that the antibiotic tetracycline, commonly prescribed as a treatment for bacteria-related acne, increases the risk of male infertility by significantly reducing sperm viability. What's more, researchers then made the surprising discovery that the next generation of male spiders also appeared more likely to develop fertility issues—even if those spiders were never given the antibiotic.
"Tetracycline has a significant detrimental effect on male reproductive function and sperm viability—reducing viability by up to 25 percent—and now we know that effect is passed on to the next generation," says David Zeh, University of Nevada Chair of the Department of Biology in the College of Science and a co-author of the study. Zeh speculates that tetracycline is able to alter genetic information related to sperm production. The study has potentially serious implications in humans, as tetracycline is a commonly prescribed antibiotic—especially for acne.
Ironically, tetracycline is the very thing doctors use to protect men and women from infertility. It is generally considered to be one of the most effective antibiotics around for chlamydia. Left untreated, chlamydia—and other sexually transmitted bacterial infections—can also result in infertility. So, in other words, don't throw out that prescription just yet! If your guy is using tetracycline for any reason, it's a good idea to discuss it (and any other medications) with his doctor as part of routine preconception care.
And what about women? According to OTIS (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists), tetracycline is generally not recommended for use during pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters, because exposure may lead to tooth discoloration or bone development problems in babies. For this same reason, nursing moms are also advised to avoid the drug. If you are using tetracycline now that you're trying to conceive, ask your doctor if making a switch to a more pregnancy-compatible antibiotic is right for you.