Health Risks of Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

In Featured Article, Health Warning, Pain Relief

Every day, millions of people take anti-inflammatory medicines to relieve everything from minor aches and pains, to the occasional headache, to the debilitating symptoms of arthritis.

The most common are known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Many of us are familiar with the dangers of the prescription versions of these drugs. For instance, researchers believe that Vioxx caused more than 40,000 deaths before it was pulled off the market. Now, new research shows that even the over-the-counter variety – like Advil, Motrin and Aleve – could cause serious risks to your health.

And you don’t have to pop too many of them put yourself in danger. In fact, new research shows that taking anti-inflammatories for just one week could increase your risk of death by 45 percent!

The author of this study is Anne-Marie Schjerning Olsen of Copenhagen University, Denmark. She confirms that even short-term treatment was associated with, “instantaneous cardiovascular risk.” She says that people should limit their use of these drugs to ”the absolute minimum.”

The recent findings come as no surprise to Harvard Medical School doctor and Senior Clinical Investigator Elliot Antman. He led his own study on these drugs a couple of years ago and got the same results.

“This new research adds to our knowledge about the adverse effects of NSAIDs,” he says. “The authors confirm our advice that NSAID use should be avoided.”

NSAID Risk Highest for Heart Patients

The Danish study (published in the peer-reviewed journal Circulation) looked at 83,000 people. It shows that even short-term use of anti-inflammatories is risky for everyone.

“Overall, NSAID treatment was associated with a statistically significant increased risk of death,” says Dr. Olsen.

However, those who had suffered a prior heart attack were the most at risk.

“Our results indicate that there is no safe therapeutic window for NSAIDs in patients with prior heart attack,” Dr. Olsen says.

People with prior heart problems taking an NSAID for one week increased their risk of death by 45 percent. If they took the pills for three months, that risk increased to 55 percent.

“A very conservative approach to use NSAIDs in patients with prior heart attack is warranted,” says Dr. Olsen. “If NSAID therapy is necessary for patients with known heart attack, the doctors should choose a minimum (dose) for the shortest period.”

The team found that several versions of these drugs increased the risk. The list includes the widely used ibuprofen, which many people pop as casually as M&M candies.

And plenty of experts support these results.

One of them is Dr. Nathan Wei, who did his fellowship with the National Institutes of Health. These days he heads up research on pain killers as the director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Maryland.

He’s says this study is just more evidence showing how risky NSAIDs are.

“The findings cannot be ignored,” he says.

And this is not the only evidence against NSAIDs. Another recent study shows they could also put pregnant women and unborn children in the line of fire.

Drugs Double Miscarriage Risk

Taking NSAIDs puts everyone at risk. But if you’re pregnant, taking these drugs is even more risky.

A second new study shows that women who take NSAIDs during their first 20 weeks of pregnancy more than double their risk of having a miscarriage.

The study comes from Professor Anick Berard, director for the pregnancy and drugs research group at the University of Montreal.

She and her team based their results on 50,000 Canadian women. They found that women taking NSAIDS experienced 2.4 times as many cases of miscarriage as those who didn’t take the pills.

The risky drugs identified in this study included ibuprofen and naproxen.

“I would strongly suggest that women take no NSAIDs during the first trimester,” says Prof. Berard. “If a woman is taking an NSAID for a chronic condition she has to talk to her (doctor) to see if it’s feasible to stop at least during the first trimester.”

3 Natural Methods for Managing Pain Safely

Many other studies show these drugs come with plenty of risks. We told you about some of them here.

That means you need to find safer ways to manage your pain.

NSAIDs fight pain by reducing inflammation. But there are much safer (and even more effective) ways to do that.

Here are three tried and tested options for you to try.

Devil’s Claw:

Recent research shows that this South African plant can reduce pain and inflammation, without any risks or side effects.

A clinical study from the University of Maryland showed Devil’s Claw performed just as well as any man-made drug. British researchers also tested it out at the University of Reading. They found that 700 mg helped relieve pain, even in people with arthritis.

So what’s the best way to get Devil’s Claw?

You can buy it online in capsule form or as a tea. You can also order a dried version from your local health stores. Dried Devil’s Claw comes in chopped pieces or in powder form.

Omega 3:

Extensive research shows that omega-3 fatty acids work as well as any NSAID, without side effects.

That’s good news. It’s easy to get more omega-3 fats into your diet. Fish like wild-caught Alaskan salmon are loaded with it. So are meats like grass-fed beef.

You can also get omega-3 fats in supplement form. One study shows that 1,200 mgs each day is enough to reduce inflammation and soothe pain.


Studies show that this Indian spice can relieve pain and inflammation better than NSAIDs. One double-blind study showed that 1,200 mg of turmeric worked better for relieving pain than several types of anti-inflammatory drugs. And that was without any side effects.

It’s easy to get hold of turmeric. You can get it at any store in the spice aisle. Start using it liberally to spice up your dishes. It’s also available in health stores or online in supplement form. You can buy a bottle of 120 capsules for about $10. Each capsule offers 720 mgs of turmeric. So if you take two a day, one bottle will last you a couple of months.