What did you do the last time you had a headache? If you are like millions of other Americans, you may have taken a few painkillers, felt some relief and continued with your day.
This cycle of medication for pain is extremely common. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen and naproxen are the most prescribed drugs in America and across the world. Combined with painkillers purchased over the counter, Americans take 30 billion doses each year.
These kinds of drugs are commonly used for intermittent, chronic and acute bouts of pain. They are recommended for headaches, arthritic pain, sinus pain, muscle aches, backaches, fevers, and many kinds of injuries. With the use of such drugs so common – and even casual – it may be expected that they are safe.
NSAIDs are designed to reduce pain and inflammation by disrupting the formation of prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are molecules synthesized in the body from certain kinds of fats. They promote inflammation in damaged tissues, which supports the healing process. The pain, warmth, redness and swelling of a certain area of the body indicates an immune response. When the tissues have been repaired, a different type of prostaglandin is introduced to the area to decrease the inflammation and return the tissue to normal.
NSAIDs can disrupt this cascade of healing.
While the initial relief of the discomfort from inflammation may be welcome, an interrupted cycle can result in injured tissues that are left damaged. Painkillers may actually extend healing time and the resolution of acute damage.
Beyond halting normal functions in the body, gastrointestinal damage from NSAID use is well documented. Another job of prostaglandins is the production of the protective mucosal lining of the digestive tract. The blockage of prostaglandin production results in a reduced lining, leaving the delicate digestive tract vulnerable to damage. This can lead to bleeding and leaky gut. When the integrity of the gut is compromised, the immune system steps in to protect the body. An overreaction can take place on the part of the immune system, resulting in allergies and sensitivities.
Additionally, NSAID use can put undue stress on the liver.
Like any chemical processed by the body, NSAIDs must be detoxified by the liver and passed out of the body. Acetaminophen, in particular, goes through a detoxification process similar to alcohol, in which an even more toxic intermediary is produced before final detoxification and elimination. If acetaminophen is taken with alcohol, the burden upon the liver is enormous.
While skipping NSAIDs for intermittent, short-term pain may seem doable, plenty of Americans experience chronic pain in which their day-to-day lives would be disrupted without assistance. In these cases – such as arthritis or autoimmune conditions – it may be advisable to reframe the thinking surrounding the discomfort.
Rather than viewing the pain as the problem, view it as the symptom of the deeper issue.
Pain is a message from your body that something isn’t right. When painkilling drugs become part of the daily routine, it is time to make some real changes. Getting to the root cause of the pain is essential for health, longevity and quality of life.
Possible causes of frequent or chronic pain:
- Food sensitivities
- Chemical exposure
- Mold exposure
- Leaky gut
- Poor immune function
- Thyroid or adrenal dysfunction
- Liver stress
- Poor blood sugar control
- Nutritional deficiencies
Simple lifestyle changes can make a great difference in pain management. Identifying and eliminating food, chemical and mold sensitivities will go far in reducing inflammation. Maintaining good hydration by increasing water and decreasing diuretics such as coffee, juice and alcoholic beverages can be a surprising source of relief. Working with a functional practitioner who will guide the process of identifying problems and recommending solutions can be essential for reclaiming health and denouncing reliance upon NSAIDs.
Even with lifestyle in order and chronic pain resolved, inflammation and discomfort still happen.
Increasingly, there are more natural solutions available for acute cases of pain. The spice turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are available in seasonings, teas and more concentrated capsules. Many people are finding pain relief with cannabidiol – or CBD – the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis. CBD can be purchased from many kinds of retailers as oil, capsules, tinctures and creams. Both turmeric and CBD have been shown to have great therapeutic effects without toxic risk.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always work with a medical professional to address your health needs.
Wiegand, T. (2016.) Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug Toxicity. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/816117-overview
Ricciotti, E. and FitzGerald, G. Prostaglandins and Inflammation. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 20011 May; 31(5): 986-1000.
Weatherby, D. (2004.) Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Bear Mountain Publishing, Jacksonville.
Sara Kennedy is a certified Nutritional Therapy Consultant. She lives fitness, nutrition and wellness – and wants to help save lives and change the world’s view on health and nutrition. Learn more about Sara and her plans at thriveak.com To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org