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Are OTC Pain Relievers Safe? Treating Pain & Headaches Naturally

Next time you have a headache, read this before you head to your medicine cabinet.

NSAIDS can seem to be effective for people when it comes to pain or discomfort caused by inflammation. Unfortunately, they come with their downsides, and there are plenty. Examples of NSAIDs include Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve, Celebrex…. The list is relatively long.

NSAIDs Work.... But Also Block Critical Body Functions

Prostaglandins are substances made in our bodies from fatty acids (from foods we eat), and they function similarly to hormones. They serve many important roles, like controlling what comes in or out of a cell itself, supporting kidney function, as well as regulating inflammation - among many other things. Of the three types of prostaglandins that are involved in managing inflammation in our bodies, two are anti-inflammatory (called PG1 and PG3) and one is inflammatory (called PG2). Inflammation is not always a bad thing, especially because it helps us repair and protect our cells and tissues when needed. All of these prostaglandins are critical components of our health!

NSAIDS work because they block the formation of the prostaglandin PG2 - the inflammatory prostaglandin, which offers the pain relief effects we seek. What isn't so obvious or positive is that NSAIDS block prostaglandin formation completely - even the good ones that work to repair tissues and ensure our organs function properly. So, when taking an NSAID, we do experience that anti-inflammatory effect by dampening the inflammatory prostaglandins… this negatively changes the way fatty acids are used and formed in our bodies with much bigger implications; we could also be crippling critical metabolic processes in our bodies.

Leaky Gut

NSAIDs and their damaging effects on the gut have been known for a while. They're especially linked to leaky gut. How? They interfere with prostaglandin formation - which, if you recall, prostaglandins are hormone-like substances our bodies make. This results in damage to the intestines, which sometimes shows itself as irritable bowel syndrome or disease. One way found to reduce the harm done from NSAIDs was to administer synthetic prostaglandins with them, which becomes a vicious cycle. Or how about avoiding them altogether?

Leaky gut has been associated with depression, ADHD, and allergies.

Fatty Liver

Because the gut barrier is impacted and lets toxins and particles into our bloodstream after taking NSAIDs, bacteria in our gut are more likely to end up in places where they shouldn't be. One related condition is called SIBO, or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, which can bring somewhat embarrassing symptoms like foul gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.

When toxins get past our gut lining, our immune system usually comes to the rescue with an inflammatory response, especially in the liver -- it's all meant to protect us from something worse. On the other hand, if NSAID use occurs continuously, researchers believe that eventually, this could develop into fatty liver disease.

How About Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen, known more commonly as Tylenol, isn't an NSAID. So couldn't this be a safe alternative? It's not that easy.

With just 10 days of continuously using acetaminophen, researchers found abnormalities and decreases in critical hormones that control ovulation and fertility in women. This can definitely have an affect on women who want to have children!

Scientists really aren't sure at this point how acetaminophen works, but it is known that it makes it into your brain and also reduces glutathione, an important antioxidant that is essential for detox, reducing inflammation, and preventing cell damage (which speeds up aging).

Acetaminophen itself is responsible for over 100,000 injuries or deaths every single year.

What can you do instead of NSAIDS

If at all possible, try more natural approaches before you pop that OTC pill.

Understanding why you need a painkiller in the first place can be a big clue to get some relief -- are you detoxing? Did that tendinitis in your shoulder flare up again?

Pain, stiffness, and aches (including headaches) are a sign that our body feels something is off. Listen to it, dig deeper, and feel better by using Functional Medicine!

Let's take that stiff and achy shoulder as an example.

Think back: maybe you ate a bunch of sugar and drank a little too much alcohol last night. This is your body telling you you've pushed past your limits. In this case, maybe it's time to take a closer look at your eating habits or identify foods you're sensitive to.

Or, if you're getting a detox headache, this isn't a bad thing! Your body wants you to know that things are happening and toxins are making their way out of your body. Drinks lots of water and get plenty of sleep. This shall pass…

Here's how to get rid of a headache and relieve pain without drugs:

  • Get blood circulation going by taking a brisk walk or exercising. Often, the discomfort will go away as you get moving.

  • Sit and meditate. Focus on deep, even, slow breaths. This helps turn off your brain from inflammation-causing "stress mode" and works especially well for tension headaches triggered by external stress.

  • Keep your blood sugar up and steady - eat fresh fruit, juices (like cucumber or celery juice, that contains lots of important minerals!), and snacking every hour or two

  • Try ginseng, resveratrol, or turmeric to increase circulation - these natural compounds can also reduce inflammation without the negative side effects.

  • Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods like green smoothies, berries and bright-colored foods to help sweep up the free radicals damaging your cells.

  • Relax in epsom salt baths (great source of magnesium to soothe headaches), massage, or reflexology.

  • Try essential oils to reduce discomfort: peppermint and lavender.

  • Sip on herbal teas like peppermint, ginger, or chamomile.

No drug or medication comes without its side effects, even if it's just an over-the-counter pill!

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