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Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): What You Need to Know!

April 26, 2022 4 min read

NSAIDs are a popular grouping of mostly over-the-counter pain relieving drugs. As you can tell from their name, they act as anti-inflammatory drugs. Some of the most common ones include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and aspirin.  There are many other prescription-only NSAIDs as well.

How NSAIDs Work

NSAIDs work by stopping the production of chemicals known as prostaglandins. They are responsible (in part) for pain production, protecting the lining of the stomach and many other biologic processes.  While NSAIDs block pain, they also prevent the stomach from protecting itself leading to the very common side effect of gastrointestinal bleeding. Larger doses and more frequent use cause more side effects.

Use of NSAIDs in Competition

Up until very recently, many athletes were advised that taking an NSAID before, during and after an event would be helpful. Well, there is nothing further from the truth. NSAIDs have been shown to create several problems for athletes.. If your doctor is still advising you to take them before an event or even over an extended period of time, time for another opinion!

New Studies Reveal Danger to Athletes Through Use Of NSAIDs

In a recent landmark study looking at the effects of NSAIDs on runners at the Western States Endurance Run, researchers discovered some startling things about runners that took ibuprofen before the race. (1)

Runners that took ibuprofen before and during the race actually had more markers of inflammation in their blood after the race than runners that did not take the drug. The ibuprofen takers also had signs of kidney impairment and –yikes- a condition called endotoxemia in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream. This is the beginnings of Leaky Gut Syndrome. Talk about a great way to get really sick, take some ibuprofen and then go exert yourself!

natural alternatives to ibuprofen

The Problem with NSAIDs during Competition

It's thought that slightly more than half of athletes at events take some form of NSAID drug before or during their races. Taking “Vitamin I” as many athletes call it is quite commonplace.

Of course, the reason so many athletes take these drugs is for pain prevention both during and after their competition.

However, researchers have shown that taken in this manner, NSAIDs don’t work to reduce pain during races or prevent soreness afterwards.

In addition, taking NSAIDs excessively before or during events can actually help you get into the medical tent. Given the negative effect on the kidneys, it's not uncommon for athletes to have kidney and therefore hydration problems when taking too many NSAIDs during competition. They even increase the amount of oxidative stress produced during exercise. (2)

Long Term Problems Of Taking NSAIDs

Perhaps just as much of a concern is the finding that NSAIDs slow the healing of tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones. Remember those chemicals prostaglandins that the NSAIDs inhibit? Well prostaglandins are super important for repair of and production of collagen, the protein from which these structures are made.

Taking NSAIDs continually can actually slow the repair of the damage that strenuous exercise produces.

Further, NSAIDs blunt the body’s response to exercise at even deeper levels. By slowing the body’s response to exercise, the very tissues which exercise strengthens are not able to benefit from the normal bodily stimulus to strengthen those tissues. In the end, this can lead to weaker tissues that are more prone to injury and less able to heal.

Alternatives To Taking NSAIDs

Sure, if you're in pain and need some relief, NSAIDs can certainly help. But as we just reviewed, they aren’t meant to be taken preventively, or on an ongoing basis.

If you're in so much discomfort that you need to seek pain relief before an event, chances are you shouldn’t be competing. It’s not worth making an injury worse. 

If you have an injury (which most of which are caused by inflammation) that causes you to reach for the ‘Vitamin I’ you should get it checked out, and find a safer medical solution.

Here are some of our favorite natural anti-inflammatories:

1. Inflammation Relief breaks down the pain-generating chemicals your body makes in response to injury and tissue damage. It also speeds healing by improving oxygen and nutrient delivery to damaged areas.

2. Curcumin Relief  is made from a highly absorbable form of turmeric, one of nature’s strongest anti-inflammatories. It shuts inflammation down naturally, and without negative side effects like over the counter and prescription pain relievers.

3. Essential Fatty Acids contain omega-3 fats that have widespread clinical benefits; perhaps the best known is their ability to stop inflammation where it starts. These specialized fats are what give rise to the anti-inflammatory chemicals your body makes naturally.

These natural medicines, when used in combination provide effective pain relief and stop inflammation, without the side effects of NSAIDs.

 

References:

Nieman DC, Henson DA, Dumke CL, et al. Ibuprofen use, endotoxemia, inflammation, and plasma cytokines during ultramarathon competition. Brain Behav Immun. 2006 Nov;20(6):578-84. Epub 2006 Mar 22.
 
McAnulty SR, Owens JT, McAnulty LS, et al. Ibuprofen use during extreme exercise: effects on oxidative stress and PGE2. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Jul;39(7):1075-9.

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