Why I don’t use NSAIDs for inflammation or pain (and what to use instead)
Suffering from chronic heartburn, constipation, headaches, and menstrual cramps, I spent a lot of my younger years doubled over in pain.
I tried to medicate myself with over-the-counter drugs for years, but the symptoms would temporarily be covered up, and then they always came back fast and furious.
Finally, I sought help from a variety of doctors, but they all offered more medications, and I felt like the pain was going to be my lifelong struggle.
When I realized I had a choice between lifelong pharmaceutical intervention with its long list of side effects, or finding the root cause and resolving it, I chose to investigate.
I eventually found the root causes, but what shocked me was how easy it was to recover by changing my diet. I had a major blood sugar imbalance and I was suffering from digestive inflammation, but it looked like acid reflux, constipation, cramping, headaches, and pain.
Blood sugar imbalance and inflammation in the gut is a common double whammy and exactly why my own suffering drove me to specialize in these two intimately related areas.
What I found through my years of study was that diet can reduce inflammation better than medication and I’ve felt that in my own experience too.
So why not just take a pill?
I know NSAIDs can make you feel better quickly, but at what cost to your overall health?
Painkillers, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), you know Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, aspirin or Aleve are often a first response, but I think they should be a last resort, because they are band-aid solutions that can actually do more harm than good.
Just because they’re common doesn’t mean they’re safe.
There are nearly two dozen different NSAIDs available over the counter, but they all work in the same way, which is by blocking a specific group of enzymes that help your body to inflame when it feels the need to do so.
I know inflammation never feels like a good idea, but imagine when you sprain your ankle how vulnerable it is; your body inflames to protect you from moving it.
We may take a few Ibuprofen to get the swelling down, but then we may walk on an unsteady ankle and can cause further damage. The same problems can happen in your body when you take these anti-inflammatories long term.
Some well-known yet often ignored dangers of NSAIDs include risks for the gastrointestinal tract, heart and kidneys, among others. Here are some critical reasons why I would use a more natural anti-inflammatory instead of an NSAID.
Why NSAIDs are harmful
NSAIDS can damage your delicate microbial ecosystem that houses your immune system and can actually raise inflammation as a side effect. This will make you more susceptible to infection and chronic low grade inflammation that will drive your need to increase your medication dosage.
More than half of all bleeding ulcers are caused by NSAIDs, according to gastroenterologist Byron Cryer, MD, a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association.
NSAIDs cause the stomach to stop the formation of protective lining in the same mechanism used to stop inflammation. Unfortunately, you cannot get one benefit without the other side effect. However, fish oil is able to offer the benefit without the side effect, which you can read about below.
NSAIDs can cause “leaky gut” (intestinal permeability) which, ironically, drives up inflammation and allergenic responses to foods and the environment.
NSAIDs increase the risk of heart failure by an alarming 19%, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
The Arthritis Foundation warns that NSAIDs increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other heart problems.
The Food and Drug Administration requires that the labeling of NSAIDs contain these specific warnings regarding the heart:
- Non-aspirin NSAIDs can increase the chance of heart attack or stroke.
- This risk may be greater if you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease (for example, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes).
- The risk may also be increased in people who do not have heart disease or those risk factors.
- Risks can occur early in treatment and may increase with longer use.
- Heart problems caused by non-aspirin NSAIDs can happen within the first weeks of use and may happen more frequently with higher doses or with long-term use.
Even with short-term use, NSAIDs have been associated with an increased risk of blood clots.
NSAIDs have a negative effect on kidney health in nearly all patients using the drugs, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Also, NSAIDs can cause fluid retention by holding on to sodium.
Scared of NSAIDs? Me too!
NSAIDs don’t treat the root cause of the pain; they treat the symptoms and often cause more problems.
This is why I’m such an advocate for food as medicine.
Don’t worry, there are many natural alternatives that have been helping people recover gracefully and without the nasty side effects.
What to use instead of NSAIDs
One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the farmer’s market.
"Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet avoiding processed foods, fried foods, food colorings, additives, preservatives, and food-like chemicals can work miracles preventatively. However, when it’s too late and the pain of inflammation has already set in, there are still healthy things you can do.
Here are some of my top natural alternatives to NSAIDs.
Boswellia, aka Indian Frankincense, is an ancient herb that has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and pain. Currently, it’s used in many arthritic cases and in a study of osteoarthritis patients, 100-250mg reduced pain and stiffness in 4 weeks.
- The magic component in fish oil is omega 3 fatty acid and it has the same mechanism of action of an NSAID in reducing inflammation without the side effect of creating ulcers.
- Fish oil must contain the active omega 3s EPA and/or DHA in levels over 1g a day to be effective in reducing inflammation so look at the label and see if you are being sold a cheap version with only 100mg of EPA.
- My favorite is a concentrated source of compound that resolves inflammation by working with your immune system. You can use SPM Supreme by Designs for Health for acute inflammation.
- Turmeric is a root that is dried into the yellow spice you may have used in curries. It contains the compound curcumin that can reduce inflammation and pain.
- A review of all of the studies of turmeric on patients with varying forms of arthritis showed beneficial results with 1000mg a day.
- Curcumin is difficult to absorb which is why cheap formulas may not provide good results. Make sure you find a source that contains absorbable forms and may be combined with black pepper to boost the absorption rate.
- My personal favorite anti-inflammatory formula is Inflammatone by Designs for Health with Boswelia, Ginger, Quercetin, and resveratrol.
- You can use turmeric daily to prevent inflammation. Consume it in curries and golden milk turmeric teas. Check out my Youtube video to watch how to make it: https://youtu.be/c0HfEo9lV4o.
You can also follow these simple directions.
If these 3 natural supplements leave you wanting more, here are a few more ways to consider turning to nature’s painkillers: 8 'You Won't Believe It' Natural Painkillers (draxe.com).
These supplements can help bring down the pain from inflammation, but remember, it’s important to get to the root cause of the problem and not just mask your symptoms. When we uncover where the inflammation is coming from, we can bring arthritis, colitis, diverticulitis, and all diseases ending in “-itis,” meaning inflammation, into remission.
I understand why you might be frustrated with the traditional medical system and your ongoing pain, but I can help you find effective supplements and a plan that works for you.