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The Truth About Ibuprofen

By TJ Williams, DC, PhD

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide, with 70 million prescriptions and 30 billion over-the-counter doses sold annually in the United States. However, ibuprofen’s popularity belies its high potential for adverse effects, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hepatic, kidney, and neonatal health complications.

  1. It carries cardiovascular risks. The cardiovascular risks of NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, were first identified decades ago. Inexplicably, this information has remained mostly undisclosed to the public, causing millions of people to take a drug that could potentially compromise their heart health. In recent years, several studies have finally grabbed the attention of the medical community. In 2017, a study published in the European Heart Journal-Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy associated ibuprofen consumption with a 31% increased risk of cardiac arrest, while several others linked the drug to non-fatal myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs inhibit cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that produces inflammatory mediators, called prostanoids, from arachidonic acid. While NSAIDs inhibit the production of inflammatory, pain-inducing prostanoids, they also inhibit beneficial prostanoids that promote vasodilation (which helps reduce blood pressure); inhibit platelet aggregation (necessary for the blood to clot); and maintain a healthy vascular system. The reduction of beneficial cardioprotective prostanoids explains the increased risk of cardiovascular complications observed with ibuprofen use.
  2. It May Cause Gastrointestinal Problems. There are many well recognized gastrointestinal complications from taking NSAIDs. Ibuprofen, in particular, harms the gastrointestinal (GI) tract by reducing beneficial prostanoids that maintain the integrity of gastric tissue and the intestinal barrier. GI complications are very common with 60 to 70 percent of individuals who take NSAIDs long term developing intestinal inflammation, increased intestinal permeability, mucosal damage, gastric ulcers, diverticulitis, blood loss and anemia, and nutrient malabsorption. Ibuprofen also alters the gut microbiome. By damaging the intestinal barrier, ibuprofen allows for the passage of inflammatory bacteria from the intestines to the liver. This causes liver inflammation and promotes the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
  3. Ibuprofen Could Harm the Liver, Kidneys, and Immune Function. Ibuprofen damages the liver and raises levels of the enzymes and bilirubin. Researchers are still trying to understand how ibuprofen causes damage to the liver, but it could be partly an immune reaction to the drug or the body’s response to toxic byproducts produced when the body attempts to metabolize ibuprofen.
  4. Ibuprofen damages the kidneys and interferes with immune function. The drug reduces glomerular filtration, the process by which the kidneys filter excess fluid and waste products into the urine, ultimately straining the kidneys. Ibuprofen also decreases the immune response. It suppresses the body’s ability to target and eradicate viral infection.
  5. It Carries Prenatal Risks, Too. In recent years, a large body of evidence has accumulated indicating that prenatal use of ibuprofen increases the risk of fetal and infant health problems. Using ibuprofen during pregnancy is associated with decreased birth weight, an increased risk of cerebral palsy, and altered fetal testis development. Ibuprofen may induce these effects in a developing fetus by interacting with maternal hormones, inducing brain oxidative stress, stimulating endocannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, and inhibiting sulfation, a crucial biochemical pathway involved in detoxification.

If you would like more information regarding any of the treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at the theinstituteofnaturalhealth.com. Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 2:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1.

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