Over the counter painkillers are some of the most commonly used medications, and have been used by most people at some point in time. While it’s wonderful we have options for pain relief when pain is too strong to be managed by natural methods, these medications don’t come without side effects (like all medications do).
The main things I’m concerned about with NSAIDS (things like Ibuprofen/Naproxen etc), are damage to the gut lining. Other medications like paracetamol can also be hard on the liver and they reduce your body’s master antioxidant and detoxifier (Glutathione), so I thought it would be worth reviewing ways to limit the damage if you must take these medications. This is particularly important if you have to take them longer than a day, for example while recovering from injuries/accidents.
An important thing to remember is to always look for the root causes of your pain. Things like physical trauma are pretty self explanatory, but if you have chronic pain, severe menstrual pain, chronic migraines or similar it would be worth meeting with a functional medicine doctor to get to the root of the pain (which may be related to stress, hormone imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, toxin exposure or any number of things).
Tips to mitigate some of the side effects of common painkillers
- Take Glutamine – it maintains the integrity of the tight junctions of the gut epithelium (i.e the one-cell-thick layer lining the intestines). See here for more benefits of glutamine
- Increase your fermented food intake; these medications are also known to disrupt the microbiome, so it’s important to support it any way you can.
- Support your detoxification pathways (of which glutathione is a key component). Important ways of increasing glutathione are taking N-acetyl-cysteine (a precursor) or liposomal glutathione itself, eating grassfed undenatured whey protein, and consuming herbs like milk thistle which protect the liver.
- If you have to take Opioid painkillers like codeine (or stronger) due to severe pain, make sure you take them for short periods of time ONLY. These medications are addictive, and you might be aware of the Opioid crisis in the USA. Short term after surgery/severe trauma, these medications are lifesavers. Longer term, they can be destructive.
- If you are on a short course of Opioids, do all of the above but be aware they are constipating and can block up your elimination pathways, so be sure to eat plenty of fibrous vegetables, water and take magnesium citrate if you’re feeling bunged up.
- This last one is not so much a tip about mitigating side effects, but a warning about taking painkillers for muscle soreness after exercise. Many people pop some Ibuprofen after a hard workout without realizing that this blocks inflammation which is key to obtaining benefits from exercise. The acute inflammation post hard workout is good and necessary for growth and repair, so if you block the chemical messengers of inflammation with anti-inflammatories, you may not get as many gains from exercise. This goes for high dose antioxidants as well as OTC painkillers.