The effects of Ibuprofen on digestion and healing. Digestion 5.

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Stress directly lowers the production of stomach acid. There are other things that do this too and in a similar way. And these things are collectively called NSAIDS – or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. These include aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen.

The stomach should be a highly acidic, near sterile environment providing an essential barrier between the outside world and the rampant bacteria lurking out there trying to get inside our guts. The highly acidic bath the food goes through destroys most nasties in a satisfying way.

NSAIDs work by the inhibition of things called Cox 1 prostaglandins, a type of eicosanoid. One of Cox 1’s actions is to promote production of the mucus lining the stomach1 and the bicarb that lowers the Ph of the stomach within its mucosal layer – thus preventing the stomach from digesting itself.

So just as in the stress response, lowered mucosal protective layer means the stomach will no longer produce the acid and digestive factors in sufficient quantity to breakdown food properly.

Some NSAIDs are acidic which further irritate the stomach lining, weakening it and leading to damage.

Cox 1 also lowers blood clotting2 , so wounds generally heal more slowly. In effect by taking ibuprofen, healing is actually slowed.

So if you have the toothache, a sort throat of headache what can be done instead of reaching for the paracetamol?  Putting something soft on or near the sore spot will get rid of the discomfort.  This could bea soft scarf around the neck of a soft pad held against the cheek.  This works by utilising the pain gate theory3 The idea is that pain ascends through the spine to the brain through small diameter fibres.  The sensations of touch, pressure of vibration – pleasant sensations – ascend through the same pathways but through large diameter fibres and these nice sensations over ride the nasty sensations coming from the headache, for instance.  They ‘close the gate to pain’.   This is why we rub our shin if we bang it into something. A client of mine, when I explained this to her exclaimed that that was why her mother put an old sock around her neck when she had a cold. These are examples of how we naturally seek to overcome pain.

Long term chronic pain would respond to the pain gate theory, plus using other methods, such as increasing endorphins produced by exercise and mind management techniques.

There are other pills to reduce pain based on the herb rosemary and there are old herbal remedies.  These will not be damaging to the gut or to the healing process.

The point of this blog is to make you stop and think before you reach out for the Neurofen or just dole out the Calpol to a child off school with a bit of a sore throat. NSAIDs are as damaging to a child’s gut as it is to an adult’s. It is always better to try natural alternatives first.

  1. Bruton LL, Lazo JS, Parker KL, Goodman and Gilman’s: the pharmacological basis of therapeutics. 11th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill 2006 p1126 []
  2. Weitz Jeffrey I “Chapter 112. Anti-platelet Anticoagulant and Fibrinolytic Drugs” Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al. Principals of Internal Medicine []
  3. Melzack r, Wall PD.  Pain mechanisms: a new theory.  Science 1965; 150 (699). 971-9 []

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