We’ve all done it: Popped a few ibuprofen after a tough workout. Anti-inflammatory drugs (often called NSAIDs for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have become so common that people don’t think twice about taking them. Athletes are especially susceptible to NSAID overuse, with rates of use being higher than in the general population.
It should be noted that NSAIDs are an important tool and there are situations when use of NSAIDs is warranted: They are a non-addictive, safer alternative to opioids for pain management.
They are a good alternative to morphine in children for the treatment of severe pain following fracture or surgery.
Although ibuprofen and related pain-killing drugs are a useful option in certain situations, they shouldn’t be a regular part of your life. In fact, there are a number of dangerous things that can happen if you take these drugs frequently or mix them with physical activity. Here are some of the harmful side effects you could be facing with NSAID use:
Reduced Healing From Fracture: Contrary to the widespread belief that ibuprofen accelerates healing, some studies show that it can slow the healing of broken bones, ligaments, and other tissue.
Complications Following Surgery: One study found that patients who used NSAIDs after surgery were twice as likely to experience complications, such as non-union of fractures or infection.
Damage To The GI Tract When Combined With Exercise: Due to the redistribution of blood from the gut to the muscles, heart, and lungs during exercise, NSAID use harms the gut lining, which inhibits absorption of nutrients and allows toxins to pass into the blood stream.
Reduced Muscle Development: NSAID use suppresses protein synthesis and is thought to reduce the muscle growth response to exercise—animal studies show a reduction in hypertrophy of 50 to 75 percent in animals.
Increased Risk Of Heart Problems During Exercise: Combining NSAID use with exercise has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events.
Slower Healing of Tendon & Ligament Injuries: NSAIDs reduce the regeneration of satellite cells, which are the cells that rebuild the connective tissue that connects muscle and bones.
Lower Testosterone Levels In Men: Regular ibuprofen use can produce a substantial drop in testosterone levels in young men. One study showed the drop was significant enough to classify the men as clinically hypogonadal, which is linked to lower sperm quality and reduced fertility.
Compromised Strength Gains From Training: Along with a reduction in muscle growth, strength is also compromised, likely due to reductions in cellular activity in the muscle.
Increased Risk of Kidney Problems: NSAIDs are hard on the kidneys and the effect is greatest when combining them with exercise: One study found athletes taking NSAIDs during competition are at increased risk of bleeding in their kidneys.
Elevated Blood Pressure: All NSAIDs tend to raise blood pressure. The effect is most pronounced in people who already have hypertension, however, in light of the importance of controlling blood pressure for reducing long-term wear on the vascular system, everyone should be aware of this risk.
What about natural pain killers?
One option is curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric that has pain reducing effects.
It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects by eradicating reactive oxygen species and supporting the body’s internal antioxidant system that is powered by the compound glutathione. Curcumin can counter the inflammatory response associated with a number of diseases including diabetes, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
It also reduces pain associated with inflammation including DOMS muscle pain and pain suffered during the healing of burns and wounds. Curcumin can be taken in capsule form or applied to painful or inflamed body parts in a cream. It is poorly absorbed and needs to be taken with piperine, which is found in black pepper.
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