You likely have taken Advil (ibuprofen), Motrin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve the occasional inflammation. You’re not alone. More than 30 million Americans use NSAIDS on any given day, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.
However, these over-the-counter medications are not the miracle cures they are often touted to be. In fact, they have some serious side effects that wreak havoc on your gut. NSAIDs can actually have the opposite effect and cause inflammation!
Don’t worry. I’m going to give you the tools you need for gut repair after taking NSAIDs. Before I tell you about the gut repair tools, I’ll talk about what NSAIDs are, the different types of his medication and how they work, and the several side effects of taking them, including leaky gut.
What Are NSAIDs?
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used in conventional medicine to treat inflammation, reduce pain — especially in the joints — and decrease fever. Unfortunately, NSAIDs just offer a short-term solution and don’t get to the root cause of your inflammation. You’ve likely heard me say that inflammation is at the root of nearly every modern, chronic illness. It’s true.
Functional medicine looks at the function of all of the body’s systems and how they interact with one another rather than individual specialties. In other words, functional medicine treats the whole person, not just the symptoms of disease. This is because each symptom may be just one aspect of an individual’s illness.
NSAIDs are among the most widely used medications in the world and they treat a symptom – inflammation. Therefore, even though you get some relief from taking an NSAID, it’s not getting to the root of what’s causing it. You are merely masking your symptoms while your immune system stays under constant stress.
Did you know there are several types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs? You may not even realize that some of the medications in your medicine cabinet are actually NSAIDs.
Common Types of NSAIDs.
It’s hard to walk into any pharmacy or grocery store and not see an entire aisle full of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. You likely know about the more popular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil and Motrin. Ibuprofen is by far the most popular class of NSAIDs.1 However, did you know that aspirin and naproxen (Alieve) are also classified as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs? Here are common NSAIDs:
These medications are used to treat short-term back, neck and muscle pain, however they are also used to treat chronic pain. As with a lot of medications, long-term use of NSAIDs comes with an array of side effects, including leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
I’ll talk more about ways NSAIDs impact your gut and give you gut repair tips after using NSAIDs later. First, let’s talk about how NSAIDs work to stop inflammation.
How NSAIDs Work?
NSAIDs stop the production of hormone-like chemicals in your body called prostaglandins which triggers inflammation and fever.
Inflammation is an immune system response to protect your body from bacteria or injury. When your immune system is working optimally, acute inflammation is a critical weapon. This type of inflammation is localized (think a sore throat or red, inflamed skin around a cut), and subsides once the threat is gone.
Prostaglandins do this by raising your body’s temperature and dilating blood vessels, which causes swelling in the place they are released.
NSAIDs block a specific enzyme called cyclooxygenases (COX), which produces prostaglandins. While providing temporary pain relief may seem like a good thing, the issue is that prostaglandins also decrease stomach acid production and protect your gut lining. This can have an indirect effect on your immune system as well.
Your gut health and immune system are allies in the fight against viruses and infection. After all, 80% of your body’s immune system lives in your gut. When your immune system is supported by a healthy gut, it has the tools to fight off attacks. However, when your gut is weakened so is your immune system.
Now that you understand how NSAIDs work, let’s talk more about how they impact your gut health.
6 Ways NSAIDS Impact Gut Health
All medications come with a risk of side effects, and NSAIDs are no different. Side effects from NSAIDs are more common if you are taking high doses for long periods of time. The recommended daily dose for adults is 200 to 400 milligrams every 4 to 6 hours, not to exceed 1,200 mg in a 24-hour period.2
Common side effects of NSAIDs are dizziness, feeling light-headed, vertigo, brain fog, and mild headaches.3
The most common side effects are gut issues. Here are 6 ways NSAIDs impact your gut health.
1. Bacterial Imbalance
It’s long been known that NSAIDS can cause bleeding, inflammation, and ulcers in the stomach and small intestine. However, recent research suggests that this is the result of dysbiosis, or changes in the gut microbiome balance brought on by these medications. Studies show that the combination of medications you ingest are reflected in the types of bacteria that populate your gut.
In one study, celecoxib and ibuprofen users were discovered to have more enterobacteriaceae, which is a family of bacteria that includes E. coli, shigella and salmonella, as well as other disease-causing bacteria.4
Scientists believe that each type of NSAID can affect different bacteria in the gut, causing a different imbalance depending on which one you take. Because each person’s gut microbiome is unique, the effects may vary significantly from one person to another.
2. Digestive Discomfort
The most commonly reported side effects of NSAID use are gas, feeling bloated, stomach pain, constipation and diarrhea because they disrupt the enzymes that protect your gut lining.
GERD is short for gastroesophageal reflux disease. It’s a condition that develops when the contents of the stomach returns to the esophagus. The most common symptom is heartburn, one of the many risks of NSAIDs.
GERD symptoms are significantly more common among NSAID users than non-users. Both these effects are caused by the fact that NSAIDs irritate the lining of your esophagus, as well as the intestinal lining.
4. Gastrointestinal Ulcers and Bleeding
Remember what I said about prostaglandins and how they protect your stomach lining? One way they do this is by stimulating the release of protective mucus in your gut. When there’s not enough mucus in your digestive tract, the acid erodes the surface of your stomach or small intestine, causing an ulcer. This open sore can bleed. The long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is one of the leading causes of bleeding ulcers.5
5. Leaky Gut
NSAIDS not only cause leaky gut, but they can also be one of the greatest barriers to leaky gut repair, which I will discuss more later. Leaky gut syndrome is when the tight junctions that hold your intestinal wall together become loose. While it’s naturally semi-permeable, certain factors can punch large holes in your intestinal wall, allowing toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to escape into your bloodstream.
NSAIDs increase your intestinal permeability, which means they make leaky gut worse by widening the tight junctions in your gut cell wall. This means that more toxins and more food particles get into your bloodstream faster.
6. Acute Colitis and Autoimmune Disease
NSAIDs are associated with hospitalizations for severe colitis in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and acute colitis, a type of inflammation of the lining of the colon that is due to an infection, medication, or long-term toxin exposure. This is due to the inflammation that NSAIDs cause, as well as leaky gut.
If your leaky gut goes untreated, your immune system stays on high alert and can get confused and start attacking healthy tissues, mistaking them for foreign invaders. This process of mistaken identity is called molecular mimicry.
It’s another way that leaky gut syndrome can trigger autoimmune disease. And, once you have an autoimmune disease, leaving your symptoms untreated can cause your condition to progress. This places you at greater risk of developing another autoimmune disease.
All of this may sound frightening, however, the empowering part is that you can take control of your gut health by repairing your leaky gut, and using natural ways to promote a healthy inflammatory response. Let’s discuss them.
How to Promote a Healthy Inflammatory Response
There are natural ways to support your body’s inflammatory response without having to turn to gut-damaging NSAIDs.
Curcumin is one of the three main active compounds, or curcuminoids, that give turmeric its bright yellow color, alongside demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethozycurcumin. It has been shown to support a healthy inflammatory response thanks to its many powerful properties.
Curcumin 90% of the curcuminoid content in turmeric, though turmeric is only around 5% curcuminoids by weight. It’s commonly extracted from turmeric and formed into a powder that’s used to make supplements. However, curcumin is not absorbed very well by your body. Even if you ate curcumin for every meal, you still wouldn’t get all the benefits of this powerful spice.
My Liposomal curcumin is my No. 1 supplement recommendation to facilitate a healthy inflammatory response, and support your immune system. The liposomal form solves the problem of poor absorption and bioavailability of typical curcumin supplements by surrounding the curcumin molecule with a thin layer of fat from medium-chain-triglyceride (MTC) oil. This micelle “pocket” creates a liposome that is at least 5.6x more absorbable than most typical curcumin supplements available on the market today.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients. They can be found in wild-caught salmon, pumpkin seeds, leafy green vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous benefits, however, their biggest benefit is facilitating a healthy inflammatory response.
In addition to creating healthy cell membranes, Omega-3s help your body produce prostaglandins. Remember, one of the jobs of NSAIDs is to stop the production of prostaglandins, which is your body’s natural chemical to cause inflammation and promote blood clotting.
Without the appropriate levels of Omega-3s to create prostaglandins, your body’s inflammatory response cannot be properly modulated. My Complete Omega-3 Softgels are pharmaceutical grade, GMP certified, and 3rd party tested and are the purest, highest-potency fish oil supplement available on the market today to facilitate a healthy inflammatory response.
Now that you have the tools for a healthy inflammatory response, I’m going to share with you my go-to weapon to heal your leaky gut and my proven 4-step approach to gut repair.
Gut Repair with the 4Rs
Instead of treating leaky gut symptoms, you need to get to the root of your autoimmune disease and it starts with gut repair. The 4R approach is a proven approach that I have used with thousands of patients for gut repair.
- Remove: The goal is to get rid of things that contribute to gut inflammation such as inflammatory foods, infections, and gastric irritants like alcohol, caffeine, or medications. Inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and sugar can lead to food sensitivities. I recommend The Myers Way® to determine if you have a sensitivity to any foods.
- Restore: Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that may have been depleted by diet, medications (such as antacid medications) diseases, or aging. This includes digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile acids that are required for proper digestion.
- Reinoculate: Restoring beneficial bacteria to reestablish a healthy balance of good bacteria is critical. This may be accomplished by taking a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. I recommend anywhere from 25 -100 billion units per day.
- Repair: Providing the nutrients necessary to help reduce gut inflammation is essential. My most comprehensive weapon for gut repair is Leaky Gut Revive®, which contains powerful gut-repairing ingredients l-glutamine, aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, arabinogalactan, slippery elm, and marshmallow root.
I also highly recommend taking Complete Enzymes while you repair your gut after taking NSAIDs, Complete Enzymes supports optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as promote gut repair and help facilitate a healthy immune system response.
Complete Enzymes offer a broad-spectrum blend of plant and microbial-based enzymes for maximum digestive potency and breaks down peptides, proteins, carbohydrates, disaccharides, sugars, lipids/fats, and vegetable fiber for optimal digestion.
NSAIDs have a wide range of side-effects that can harm your gut, particularly over the long term. They don’t even address the root cause of your inflammation and can cause leaky gut, peptic ulcers and bleeding, digestive discomfort, heartburn and GERD, and autoimmune disease, as well as damage your microbiome. Repairing your gut and using natural ways to facilitate a healthy inflammatory response can put you on the path to optimal health.
- NSAIDs: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. Kathee de Falla, ParmD. Spine Health. 2019.
- ibuprofen (Rx, OTC) Reference. MedScape. 2021.
- The Influence of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs on the Gut Microbiome. Mary A.M. Rodgers, PhD, MS and David M. Aaronoff. Clinical microbiology and infection, vol. 22. 2016.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use as a risk factor for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: an observational study. P. Ruszniewski et al. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics vol. 28. 2008.
- Peptic Ulcer. Mayo Clinic. 2021.