In almost every medicine cabinet all over the States, you’re likely to find a mondo-bottle of NSAIDs, or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.
You might know them by their street names – ibuprofen, aspirin, aleve, etc. They’re our little modern miracles that we pop when there’s a headache on the horizon, as a preventive hangover measure, after working out to ease muscle soreness, to calm a fever, if you’ve got an arthritis flare up…
And given the side effects of harsher drugs and the ways in which we poison ourselves with toxins all day long, you probably hadn’t even considered what something as seemingly harmless as Motrin might be doing to your body.
Because we know that inflammation lies at the heart of most of the modern world’s chronic illness, from mental health conditions to digestive issues, NSAIDs are used as a broad solution to so many of our problems.
NSAIDs work by prohibiting the production of chemicals in the body that cause inflammation. Although warning labels on bottles and doctor’s recommendations always stress not to use them for long periods of time (usually no more than 10 days in a row), people tend to disregard this advice, or worse, take them every third day or so for years on end.
In addition to some of the well-known risks of concentrated and consistent NSAID use, like heightened risk of cardiovascular disorders and bleeding problems, scientists and researchers are exploring the effect they have on the rest of our bodily systems – particularly our gut microbiomes.
Because the irony of taking anti-inflammatory pills is that if you take them too often, you actually worsen inflammation.
Let’s examine what an unchecked NSAID habit can do to your gut…
How You Risk Your Gut When You Solve a Problem with NSAIDs
Anything that you swallow affects the composition of your microbiome – that ought to go without saying.
NSAIDs have been studied and shown to disproportionately feed certain bacterial populations in the microbiome – like Acidaminococcaceae, Enterobacteriaceae, Propionibacteriaceae, Pseudomonadaceae, Puniceicoccaceae, and Rikenellaceae – leading to dysbiosis and a waterfall of consequences. And some of these bacteria, like Enterobacteriaceae, house a whole host of disease-causing bacteria (like E. Coli and salmonella.)
And not all NSAIDs are created equally – ibuprofen will affect your gut bacterial profile differently than, say, aspirin.
But they share an important function in common: as we hinted at earlier, they block body chemical production that causes inflammation, specifically prostaglandins. These chemicals are messengers that travel around the body noting places to inflame.
They also protect the stomach lining from being eaten away from stomach acid and serve to maintain a natural order of things in the digestive system.
NSAIDs don’t allow an enzyme called Cox-1 to produce prostaglandins, which ultimately can lead to ulcers and stomach bleeding.
If that disruption of chemical production doesn’t lead to ulcers, it’s at the very least the culprit behind gastrointestinal distress experienced after ingesting NSAIDs. Gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea are all commonly reported side effects that are a result of the stomach lining being damaged.
And while we’re talking about stomach and intestinal lining damage… what else could come up but heartburn, caused by over- or under-present levels of stomach acid and an irritated esophagus?
Fortunately, we aren’t helpless, and we don’t have to flush our aspirin and ibuprofen down the drain – NSAIDs can be effective solutions for temporary discomfort…
As long as we don’t rely on their magical powers for every twinge of pain.
Ayurvedic Medicine Alternatives to NSAIDs
Among longer-term solutions to fight inflammation – like healing your leaky gut and eliminating fast foods and processed foods – there are some short-term solutions you could try looking into.
For example, there are a few natural solutions in the Ayurvedic tradition that serve to restore the imbalance in Pitta, the element of fire. Ayurvedic doctors use, most often, four spices to combat inflammation:
- Curcumin (or turmeric)
- Turmeric has been shown to modulate inflammation pathways and reduce inflammatory markers in the body.
- Boswellia (frankincense)
- As an adaptogen, this herb has many balancing benefits as well as anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been known to reduce pain, improve function, and ease arthritic-type maladies.
- The complex phytochemistry of ginger is what gives it its special powers. Among so many other things, ginger soothes digestion and irritated inflammation channels.
- Black Pepper
- Black pepper can reduce the presence of high-sensitivity proteins that ease inflammation and its effects over time, as well as aiding in the absorption of the above herbs.
And beyond the idea of alternative solutions, sometimes the pain we’re experiencing can be managed mentally and sometimes it can be managed topically – an ice pack on a sore back rather than a pill. A break from noise and light for softening a headache. A hot shower, hot mug of tea with a little whiskey, a warm blanket, and an extended night’s sleep for knocking out a fever.
But no matter what, always err on the side of LESS NSAIDs whenever you can! Give your gut a chance to heal.