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Why We Should Think Twice About Taking NSAIDs

If you’re taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like Ibuprofen on a regular basis, then you may want to take a few minutes to read this post.

It’s no big deal, right? You wake up with a little pain and stiffness in your back. No problem. You just amble over to the medicine cabinet, open your trusty bottle of over-the-counter pain pills, and swallow a few. Thirty to sixty minutes and a wave of blessed relief sweeps through your achy back and joints.

For many of us, this is a pretty common routine. In fact, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are among the most commonly used drugs in the world. 

Woman with neck pain

Certainly, if such a ubiquitous and easily accessible medication were unsafe we’d all know about it, right? From the looks of all those smiling people on TV taking these little pills every day so they can play with their kids again or get back to work, you’d think NSAIDs were as safe as vitamin C!

The slick marketing behind NSAIDs hasn’t gone unnoticed. “I believe that the message sent to the consumer when these drugs are widely available in convenience stores and gas stations is that these drugs are safe and you can use them safely for pain relief — thus no need for reading the label” said Dr. Gunnar Gislason, director of research for the Danish Heart Foundation in Copenhagen in a 2018 New York Post article.

Somehow the message about the danger of NSAIDs has not reached the public the way theopioid message has. According to a 2018 article in the Chicago Tribune, “There's a well-known crisis going on with opioid painkiller abuse, but new research reveals a sizable chunk of Americans are popping far too many over-the-counter pain relievers, too.”

So what’s wrong NSAIDs? Isn’t it reasonable to assume some risk when taking a drug that does so much, in terms of pain relief?

To understand how we got to this point we need to first look at the origins of NSAIDs.

NSAIDs are over-the-counter medications designed to reduce inflammation, thereby offering pain relief. They’re also frequently used to lower a fever. 

Their main function is to block prostaglandin compounds that cause pain and inflammation. Enzymes called cyclooxygenase (COX) produce these prostaglandins.

Athletes who feel a little soreness here and there from a hard workout are routinely handed over-the-counter NSAIDs to relieve that pain and stiffness. These drugs are sold at every gas station, and hardly anyone gives it a second thought because there is so little caution or warning to the public about their both long-term and immediate danger.

athlete has lower back pain

But in recent years, there is increasing buzz around thedangers of NSAIDs and a growing body of science that points to questions about how it affects the body. We now know there are a long list of precautions (which are often overlooked), but the fact that most over-the-counter and prescription painkillers on the market today have been NSAIDs, and so many people use them as a part of their everyday ache and pain management regimen, means that this warning is not widespread enough.

Fortunately, that’s recently begun to change. Something has shifted, and that has now made NSAIDs a global concern.

So what exactly is in NSAIDs that people are now so worried about?

Healthcare officials are concerned that NSAID use has now become so prolific, as a common and casual medication readily taken when any part of the body hurts in any way, that it may be causing prolonged and unnecessary harm to people’s bodies.

The pervasiveness and presence of NSAIDs, and the reliance on them by healthcare professionals for decades has reached scary proportions as they discount side effects, such as causing harm and inflammation in the digestive tract — which can manifest as ulcers, stomach upsets and bleeding. These ulcers occur because the COX-1 enzyme, which protects the stomach lining from being broken down, is blocked by the NSAIDs.  What’s worse is that taking corticosteroids or blood thinners ordrinking alcohol, all very common with baby boomers and seniors, increases the risk of developing these GI side effects even more.

Other side effects of taking NSAIDs include:

African American woman with dizziness or headache

NSAIDs are effective only temporarily, but researchers now know that they can not only hurt your body in the long term, but in the short term too. It’s simply not worth adding all these potentially new complications in your health in exchange for quick relief of a general pain or an inflamed body. 

There is a much better way… a natural way

So if NSAIDs can be harmful enough to make them not worth the risk, what do you do when you’re experiencing aches, pains, headaches, and inflammatory discomfort?

Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist, recommends taking natural steps that can help prevent the pain before it starts. Lifestyle changes practiced consistently can ultimately be incredibly effective at warding off aches and pains. Start practicing a few of the following habits and see what a difference it makes:

It’s hard to make a lot of lifestyle changes at once so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t change everything overnight. But try working on these natural inflammation-fighting techniques, and you may just find your NSAID bottle gathering dust in the cabinet before you realize it.

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