Testosterone is a fundamental part of any man’s health, and this fact doesn’t come as a surprise. This powerful hormone affects almost everything in our lives including physical performance, behavior, fertility, sex drive, and even erectile function, so it’s just natural that we worry whether we have enough of it or not.
But it turns out that our T levels can be compromised by a wide range of factors that may seem quite innocent at first sight. Opioid painkillers, for example, like tramadol, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and some others too. Yes, that’s right, painkillers could be lowering your testosterone, and the statistics are just terrifying:
- In 2014 more than 240 million opioid prescriptions were issued in the USA, and this number has more than tripled over the last 20 years;
- Over 2 million Americans were either addicted or abusing prescription painkillers in 2014;
Many of them had good reasons to start taking opioid pills. For example, chronic pain syndrome, severe migraines, cancer – these are all conditions that require prescription painkillers when all other medications fail to bring relief. At some point it just gets impossible to live with such pain.
But certain folks take the matter lightly and pop opioids just like some sort of magic candy for the slightest discomfort or itching imaginable. This is absolutely wrong from any point of view, especially if you are a man who want to keep his T levels healthy and soaring. Let’s take a look at some of the most important studies on this matter.
Do painkillers lower testosterone?
Short answer: yes, they do. But don’t take our words for granted, here are some real numbers that modern science can give you on the matter.
- A 2015 study revealed that out of 5,229 patients those who had taken prescription opioids for pain management (320 men) had a much higher risk of developing low testosterone levels than patients who had not (4,909 men) taken painkillers. The magnitude of the drop also varied with age and older men experienced quite a nosedive: 61-70 years – 27% drop in T, 70+ years – 36,7% drop in T.
- A 2015 meta-analysis stated that testosterone is inhibited by up to 50% in men who take opioids, regardless of the specific substance (like methadone, codeine, etc.)
- In 2012 a study highlighted that opioid painkillers BOTH decrease testosterone levels AND boost cortisol. The same study affirmed that up to 90% of patients receiving intrathecal opioids (into the spinal canal) will develop hypogonadism.
- In 2001 a study stated that 89% of men taking prescription painkillers had subnormal levels of testosterone. And 87% of men who previously had no problems with their erectile function reported loss of libido and erectile issues after starting their opioid treatment.
What about non-opioid painkillers?
Non-opioid painkillers, also known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are generally safe to use and do not lower testosterone levels, so breathe out. Some stronger NSAIDs (like meloxicam) may decrease sperm count and motility, but in general, they don’t affect your sex hormones directly.
Corticosteroids are a whole different story. Technically, they aren’t painkillers, but powerful anti-inflammatory steroidal agents used to treat severe autoimmune and chronical diseases like arthritis, lupus, and bronchial asthma.
Several decades ago a study confirmed that men taking oral prednisolone (one of the most commonly used corticosteroids) had 33% less testosterone, while men on inhaled corticosteroids had an 18% lower T baseline. Nothing has changed much since then, so keep an eye on your hormones during corticosteroid therapy.
Nobody likes to feel pain, and this is just natural. But before taking your next magic pill for a sudden headache stop right there for a second and take a moment to re-evaluate the situation: is it really worth the price? Modern science has confirmed multiple times that opioid painkillers drastically lower your testosterone levels and that corticosteroids have an identical effect.
The alternative? NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are generally safe to use, as they don’t have any effect on your sex hormones. However, keep in mind that they may have several other side effects including stomach ulcers and gastritis.
Long story short, try to avoid taking any painkillers whenever possible, and your testosterone will surely thank you for that. Alternatively, if you absolutely MUST take some kind of drug that has a fairly good chance of lowering your T, consider trying to alleviate its effect by taking a safe and effective testosterone supplement. Or eat more foods that naturally boost testosterone, the choice is yours. Just don’t let the matter aside.