As many as half of all men taking the antidepressant medications Seroxat and Paxil may have increased sperm DNA fragmentation, say researchers from the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The study, appearing in the journal Fertility & Sterility, represents one of the first scientific investigations into the effect of antidepressants on sperm quality.
"It's fairly well known that SSRI antidepressants [such as Paxil and Seroxat] negatively impact erectile function and ejaculation. This study goes one step further, demonstrating that they can cause a major increase in genetic damage to sperm," says Dr. Peter Schlegel, the study's senior author. "Although this study doesn't look directly at fertility, we can infer that as many as half of men taking SSRIs have a reduced ability to conceive."
DNA fragmentation, defined as missing pieces of genetic code in the sperm DNA, is known to correlate with poorer fertility and pregnancy outcomes, even when techniques such as in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection are applied. It has also been linked with an increased risk for birth defects.
The study also confirmed the effect of SSRIs on sexual function, with more than a third of study participants reporting significant changes in erectile function and almost half reporting ejaculatory difficulties.
Happily, however, normal levels of both sexual function and DNA fragmentation returned one month after discontinuation of the drugs.
Researcher Dr. Cigdem (Cori) Tanrikut explains that while the exact mechanism for the DNA fragmentation isn't understood, the evidence points to the drug slowing sperm as it travels through the male reproductive tract from the testis to the ejaculatory ducts. Sperm gets "hung up," she says, allowing it to get old and its DNA damaged.
"This is a new concept for how drugs can affect fertility and sperm," added Dr. Schlegel. "In most cases, it was previously assumed that a drug damaged sperm production, so the concept that sperm transport could be affected is novel."
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Source: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center