The Hidden Heart Killer Lurking in Your Medicine Chest
If you take an over the counter anti-inflammatory like Advil, Motrin, or Aleve on a regular basis, you might want to think again. In 2015 the FDA changed the labeling on these drugs to warn that they not only might increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, they unequivocally do. And even short-term usage can make it happen.
NSAIDs—killing people since the 1960s?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) have been around for a long time. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) has been in use since the 1960s, and has been an OTC drug since the 80s. Naproxen (Aleve) was created in the late 70s. Although it was downgraded to OTC status in the mid-1990s in the U.S., it remains a prescription drug in most of the world. Today both are the go-to non-prescription drugs for everything from headaches to arthritis pain.
Several other prescription NSAIDs have been introduced in the intervening years, including Celebrex and the infamous Vioxx. All of these more recent NSAIDs have serious side effects—Celebrex carries a black box warning about its potential heart effects and Vioxx was taken off the market after 5 years and 140,000 heart attacks.
Ibuprofen and naproxen, however, have long been promoted as safe and effective. They’re available for pennies at every pharmacy, grocery, and convenience store. They’re ingredients in every imaginable type of preparation from cold and flu remedies to children’s medicines. And now, the FDA tells us they just might be killing us.
We’ve been guinea pigs for the past 30 years
We’ve long been warned of the dangers of aspirin—the original NSAID. However, it wasn’t until 2005—thirty-some years after the first non-aspirin NSAIDs appeared on the market—that the labels on these newer drugs began do carry any heart warnings. Since 2005 they’ve included a mild caution that they may increase the risk of heart attack or stroke in certain people.
The new warning is more ominous. It says non-aspirin NSAIDs do increase the risk. Period. It also advises that even short-term use can be dangerous. It tells us that even though people with existing heart problems are more likely to suffer “adverse events,” the risk is significantly increased for anyone taking these drugs, whether they have existing heart conditions or not.
The FDAs announcement—which got little to no media coverage—stated that they’d reviewed all the available information to come to this conclusion. This includes clinical trial data which has been available since before the drugs were approved. So why didn’t we hear about it till 2015? In effect, we’d been guinea pigs for the past few decades.
Is there an agenda to promote naproxen?
Given the widespread use of non-aspirin NSAIDs, this should have been major headline news. It wasn’t, of course. However, the few news outlets which did cover the story put an interesting spin on it. Although the FDAs own site states that there’s not enough information to say that any one drug is safer than the others, nearly every mainstream news story claimed that naproxen carries less risk than ibuprofen. And studies show that, while naproxen might not carry the heart attack and stroke risk of the other NSAIDs, it raises the risk of heart failure significantly. Are these stories a ploy to promote naproxen as “safer” than ibuprofen?
Safer alternatives to non-aspirin anti-inflammatories
Despite their widespread use, studies show that most people don’t get “good relief” from NSAIDs. There are, however, several non-drug options which can be quite effective for many types of chronic pain.
Vitamin D – even conventional medicine is beginning to admit that vitamin D deficiency is a problem in the U.S. Low vitamin D levels can cause chronic musuloskeletal pain, which supplementation relieves. It also shows promise in treating arthritis pain and fibromyalgia.
Devils claw - this is one of the rare herbal remedies which has been heavily studied and has a strong scientific backing. Studies have shown it to be as effective as the infamous Vioxx, but without the adverse effects. Devils claw may be used to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis and chronic muscular pain. The Arthritis Foundation recommends taking 750 to 1000 mg three times per day for best results.
Arnica – Although the research is sparse, anecdotal evidence suggests that topical arnica creams may be effective for pain. Arnica is toxic if swallowed, and should only be applied to the skin.
Magnesium – magnesium is an often-overlooked cause of much chronic or even acute pain. Magnesium supplementation may be helpful for pain conditions as diverse as diabetic nerve pain and migraines.
If you have chronic pain, a combination of natural therapies may be as effective as side effect-laden drugs. Although you may not get the instant relief that pharmaceuticals sometimes bring, the long-term benefit to your health is worth the wait.
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