The first rule of medicine is a simple one…to do no harm. It’s a part of every physician’s oath, and as a naturopathic physician, I take special care to heed Hippocrates’s wise admonition. Unfortunately, there are a lot of instances where conventional medical treatments fail to live up to that ideal.
Recent headlines that a common painkiller, ibuprofen, may be even more dangerous than thought are a reminder that relying on synthetic compounds — rather than natural remedies — can frequently entail serious tradeoffs.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Patients often demand easy solutions (rather than dietary or lifestyle changes) and pharmaceutical companies want to sell as many pills as possible. In either case, it’s clear that compounds like ibuprofen are being grossly and irresponsibly overused.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is just the latest to call attention to the risks of this popular anti-inflammatory drug, which is sold over the counter in pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, and vending machines just about everywhere. The research suggests that arthritis-prone elderly are at an increased risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke if they rely on ibuprofen for pain relief.
Frank Ruschitzka, a professor of cardiology and the head of the department at University Heart Centre in Zurich, summed up the latest findings by saying, “[Our] study clearly demonstrates that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), particularly ibuprofen, maybe not as safe as previously thought.” He went on to add that “Patients receiving ibuprofen had a 61 percent higher incidence of hypertension” compared to other pain medications.
In addition to the increased risk of high blood pressure with ibuprofen… there are some other risks worth pondering as well:
- Ibuprofen causes gastrointestinal bleeding.
- Ibuprofen is a leading cause of kidney disease.
- Regular ibuprofen users are up to 20 percent more likely to develop heart failure.
- Research has shown that taking it regularly increases the risk of cardiac arrest by 61 percent.
Given the clear and present risks, I strongly suggest that anyone taking ibuprofen regularly for arthritis or any other pain syndrome should discuss these findings with their physician. There are natural alternatives that can offer comparable relief, but without the dangers that come with NSAIDs like ibuprofen. The following are a few naturopathic alternatives that I often recommend to my patients:
1. Curcuma longa (commonly known as Turmeric) is a foundational ingredient in many Indian curry dishes. It is derived from a plant related to the ginger family. Curcuma is remarkably safe and studies have shown that unlike most synthetic painkillers, it can reduce inflammation and relieve pain without damaging the liver or the kidneys.
2. Boswellia is derived from Frankincense…the fragrant and medicinal resin of an ancient, and biblically famous Middle Eastern tree. Studies have shown that this herbal medicine is safer and equally effective at reducing inflammation and improving mobility than NSAIDs like ibuprofen.
3. Bromelain is an enzyme derived from pineapples. Studies indicate it can reduce swelling, decrease fibrosis (scarring) and improve joint function in patients with osteoarthritis.
4. Quercetin is a flavonoid derived from fruits and vegetables. Studies show that it can reduce stiffness and degenerative disease activity, particularly in female patients with osteoarthritis.
Chronic inflammation plays a crucial role not just in arthritic pain but in virtually every chronic illness as well. That’s why it is so important to both eat and live in an anti-inflammatory way. Diet and lifestyle modifications are the cornerstones of an anti-inflammatory treatment plan…but some patients need a little extra help. When diet and lifestyle aren’t enough, I recommend an herbal formula called AI-4X, which I created using the four herbal ingredients I mentioned above.
You can learn more about AI-4X and how nutrient-rich living can help you alleviate both arthritic pain and chronic inflammation by checking out this informative video and lots of other resources at UpWellness.com.
Take good care,
Dr. Joshua Levitt