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Ibuprofen: Bane, Boon or Just Sometimes Handy?

Posted by bmagnus On June - 9 - 2010

It’s no wonder that ibuprofen is a popular over-the-counter pain reliever. It’s inexpensive, widely available, and seems to have few side effects. But like all medications, it is not free of problems.

Ibuprofen is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, or NSAID for short. Like all NSAIDs, it will relieve pain and reduce fever, but it shouldn’t be used by people with gastro-intestinal problems, including bowel problems.

New research suggests that there is good news and bad news for regular users of Ibuprofen. On one hand, low doses seems to lower the risk of heart attack. On the other hand, high doses — more than 6 regular tablets a day —  raise the risk not only of having a heart attack, but also of having a stroke. The overall risk was still small but important: 769 deaths out of over a million NSAID takers.

On the other hand, the same high doses of ibuprofen that were associated with heart problems have in the past been associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. People who used ibuprofen daily for 5 years had a 40% reduced risk, while those taking certain other NSAIDs reduced their risk by only 25%. So, high dose ibuprofen prevents Alzheimer’s but increases the risk of stroke. Nice trade.

While you should certainly take something for a headache or severe pain, you might reconsider whether you should take ibuprofen to ward off soreness after a hard workout. Research has repeatedly shown that ibuprofen reduces the amount of muscle synthesis that occurs after a workout! The exact reasons why are still a subject of debate and research, but even those are becoming clearer.

Her Take: NSAIDs will relieve inflammation; that is their purpose. However, they don’t generally do anything about the underlying causes of that inflammation. Just like ibuprofen won’t make arthritis go away, it won’t do anything about the inflammatory markers that have been associated with heart disease.

His Take: Like all pain relieving medication, NSAIDs should be used appropriately. A little soreness doesn’t necessarily warrant an immediate trip to the medicine cabinet.

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