Addicted To Advil? The Reality Of NSAID Dependency And Scary Side Effects You Might Be Brushing Under The Rug

From an early age, many people have developed a chronic dependency on NSAIDs for pain relief, without knowing the side effects or the alternatives.

By Anna Hugoboom5 min read
Pexels/Vitaly Gorbachev

Picture a young girl named Katie, who is given Tylenol and Motrin every time she gets allergies or picks up a bug. Then, she starts her period, and for the next 10 years, she’s given Advil for five straight days every month. You don’t even need to do the math to know that she has ingested a crazy number of over-the-counter drugs since childhood! 

A scary majority of girls pop Advil or Tylenol every time they hit their period or grab an Excedrin or Ibuprofen for a headache that might simply arise from dehydration. The large majority of parents give NSAIDs like Motrin or kiddie Tylenol to their children every time they run a temperature or start sniffling. Children are learning at a very young age to just pop a pill for pain instead of trying other natural reliefs or, if an NSAID is really needed, to use it in combination with alternatives to boost their immunity. 

Granted, you want to feel better, and parents want their children to get well, but think of the long-term effect on the organs, especially when they’re young, and the impact on the liver’s detoxification and the gut’s microbiome. Plus, taking it frequently and consistently only builds up a tolerance, so you gradually need more. This means you might be taking more than you should and, at the end of the day, that’s just more drugs (yes, they are drugs) going into your body and wreaking havoc on your internal system with prolonged side effects.

Since I grew up very holistically, the first time I took Advil for a pre-Christmas cold (my first NSAID ever), I felt like my immune system lost its virginity. But I needed to heal up fast because of a busy schedule, so I took it with tons of vitamin C, elderberry, vitamin D, zinc, lemon juice, and ACV water. All that did the trick, and I was only sick for two days instead of a week. 

What NSAIDs Do

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are among the most common pain relievers used in the modern world, and they help to reduce pain, fever, and other kinds of inflammation. They come in various forms of over-the-counter drugs and prescription medication and are used to treat a wide range of illnesses and conditions. Some of the most common NSAIDs include Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and Aleve (Naproxen sodium).

NSAIDs work by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which is involved in the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances of the immune response that contribute to pain, fever, and inflammation. However, these painkillers don’t treat the condition – they band-aid the symptoms. They also hijack the body’s natural detoxification and healing process and inhibit antibody production in human cells. Not to mention, they call in a gnarly lineup of side effects. 

Physiological Effects

Although NSAIDs were invented for a reason and do help in certain acute illness and injury situations, these guys aren’t good all the way. To quote Harvard, no medication is completely safe, NSAIDs included. In fact, while NSAIDs are useful for reducing pain and acute inflammation, they also can produce side effects such as gastrointestinal irritation and damage such as stomach bleeding, especially when used in high doses and over an extended period of time. Other top side effects include stomach upset and indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, kidney and liver injury. NSAIDs also produce oxidative stress in your cells, which eventually leads to tissue damage and chronic inflammation. 

Moreover, NSAIDs can cause or contribute to chronic fatigue issues because they attack the mitochondria, preventing cells’ energy production and increasing the risk of liver and heart disease, including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. These painkillers literally kill cardiac cells and tax the liver, which is the detox organ filtering the chemicals from the body.

Ibuprofen Overuse

Ibuprofen appears to relieve illness because it helps reduce pain and swelling in the body by lowering the hormones that cause inflammation. However, inflammation is part of the immune response, so Ibuprofen essentially inhibits proper hormonal and immune reflexes, so to speak. Along with inhibited antibody production, as mentioned above, the body isn’t able to build up immunity to certain illnesses, so the system remains weak and indeed grows weaker with the side effects.

A 2018 study found that 15% of Ibuprofen users exceeded the recommended dose. This is highly concerning and can lead to a whole host of other health complications, including gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular illness, kidney damage, and liver toxicity. And we wonder why colon cancer has skyrocketed among younger individuals in the millennial and Gen Z generations, with adults as young as 20 at risk – and medical sources can’t, or won’t, pinpoint the reason! Is it because of these toxic NSAIDs and their frequent usage or overuse that gastrointestinal disorders are compiling into an epidemic that isn’t getting enough attention? People’s guts are being shredded, and they continue to take the substances that are causing the problem to relieve the pain.

NSAIDs Vs. Acetaminophen

One FAQ is Tylenol’s role in this discussion – no, Tylenol is not an NSAID. It’s an acetaminophen, which helps reduce pain and fever but does not reduce inflammation. One upside to acetaminophens is they don’t cause as many gastrointestinal issues as do NSAIDs, so that is a factor to consider when choosing a pain medication, if it is necessary.

As there is always a catch, the downside equals unpleasant side effects, including possible hypersensitivity and skin reactions, kidney damage, anemia, reduced blood platelets, or liver failure, in addition to the generic rash, nausea, and headache. Doesn’t sound like something you’d want going into your body in any version frequently unless absolutely necessary.

Why Do Doctors Recommend NSAIDs So Much?

If the side effects are so bad, why are doctors still recommending this stuff? My first hypothesis is easy: Most medical doctors don’t know, or legally can’t prescribe, another type of treatment or short-term solution of a natural kind. Not unless they’re specifically a holistic doctor or a naturopathic doctor and would then be under different boundaries of practice. Granted, it’s a different ballgame if you’re in the hospital and have an acute injury or are healing from a traumatic accident and you need the fast-relief drugs. 

Secondly, NSAIDs are a huge money-maker. A medical study showed that, in 2010, approximately 72 million people in the U.S. used an NSAID three or more times each week for at least three consecutive months. That means Big Pharma sold approximately 2,592 (if not closer to 3, 500) million NSAIDs in just three months! Big Pharma can’t patent holistic remedies like it can with pharmaceutical drugs, so the money gap would be huge. Plus, the whole point of using natural medicine is to holistically heal the body and strengthen it against illness, so you don’t have to use the remedies again or at least as much. If people didn’t keep getting sick or at least fell sick less, they wouldn’t need the painkillers and symptom band-aids, and Big Pharma would majorly lose out on sales. Global NSAID sales were estimated at $19.57 billion in 2023. 

How To Take NSAIDs

If you do have to take NSAIDs, the best way to ingest over-the-counter-drugs is to take vitamin C beforehand to reduce the risk and minimize the toxic effects. Maybe this isn’t the most groundbreaking thought ever, but hardly anyone knows about it.

Vitamin C does help lessen the adverse effects of NSAIDs. It can help protect the gastrointestinal mucosa by promoting the synthesis of collagen, which is a factor in strengthening tissue lining and internal mucosa. Also, vitamin C enhances mucus secretion, which can act as an additional protective layer on the gastrointestinal lining, helping to enhance immunity and protect against NSAID-induced irritation and damage. So, if you have to take an NSAID, try taking it with a cup of water mixed with an Emergen-C or Vitamin C-electrolyte packet, fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice, or even eat a whole orange or grapefruit. 

Natural Alternatives

You can choose multiple different options instead of always popping that pill. Or try one, some, or all of these in combination with an NSAID for starters, so you don’t need as much of the painkiller. 

  • Turmeric curcumin – turmeric is one of the most powerful herbs in the world and has been used for centuries to remedy aches, inflammation, pain, and swelling. It also helps regulate cholesterol, arthritis symptoms, blood clotting, cancer, digestive disorders, and even depression. 

  • Ginger – another ancient medicinal ingredient that helps soothe inflammation, indigestion, and stomach issues, and relieves tension and nausea. It also contains antioxidants which help fight free radicals and enhance immunity. 

  • Bromelain – this enzyme is derived from pineapple and helps fight allergic reactions, indigestion, asthma, and sinus infections.

  • Magnesium – an extremely underrated nutrient, this mineral is a must-have item that can help relieve tension and pain. Read more on the health benefits of magnesium here. 

  • Essential oils – whether in a bath, misting in the shower, or wafted through a diffuser, essential oils have been a trusted remedy for aches and pains and promoting relaxation.

  • Epsom salt bath – a wonder for helping muscle or joint aches, cramps, and stiffness, and relieving soreness, inflammation, pain, or swelling.

Closing Thoughts

While NSAIDs have a role to play in modern medicine and are useful in certain scenarios (and no, I don’t mean menstrual periods), their widespread use warrants concern and caution as to their negative side effects and health risks, especially when used frequently and over long periods of time. Exploring alternative options could benefit not only your bank account but also your immunity and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems and provide a safer method for overall healing. 

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