"Well, it all started after I took the antibiotic…that it turns out I didn’t need anyway.”
“I don’t ever remember having any GI issues at all until I hurt myself playing tennis and started taking Advil every day.”
”I never understood that once I started the drug, I wouldn’t be able to stop it.”
“I’ve just kept taking the antacid the past five years. Is that dangerous? I didn’t know that could be a problem.”
“Well, the last time I really felt well is what I like to call my life before-the-prednisone.”
I hear this type of comment nearly every day. People struggling with the unexpected, downstream, negative consequences of using a medication. And too often, suffering in ways in which they were never told might be possible.
As you likely know, I am a scientist at heart and by training. A chemist, at that. I fully understand and embrace the concept of “better living through chemistry”. I also understand that introducing a synthetic substance into the body (a very tightly honed system) can have dramatic, unforeseen consequences. In fact, there is no such thing as fully “benign” medication. Every drug is a toxin. A foreign substance strategically designed to effect the body before our defense systems can track it down and wipe it out.
There’s no doubt that modern medications are a technological marvel. When they are needed to save a life or prevent permanent damage, drugs are indeed a blessing. However, most medications are not used for this purpose and are more of a ‘lifestyle rescue’ agent. Situations in which we have choices. Where we have options.
Certainly, taking a drug is sometimes the most prudent and logical choice. But there is often a price to pay. I believe it’s critical to educate our clients, so they may intelligently minimize medications wherever possible and make an informed choice. A choice that considers the possibility of significant downstream repercussions. This week, I’m kicking off a series of articles which will feature key education, little-known facts, and possible alternatives to widely used medications.
Let’s start with NSAIDs. “Painkillers”. Advil, Motrin, Aspirin, Aleve…
NSAID = Non-Steroidal, Anti-Inflammatory Drug. In the body, prostaglandins are hormone-like molecules which mediate inflammation, dilate blood vessels, and – among many other things – increase pain perception. NSAIDs essentially block the activity of molecules (called COX enzymes) which create prostaglandins. We don’t like pain. We want to numb it.
But let me gently offer a different way of looking at pain. It’s not just a random nuisance. Pain is actually part of the body’s “wake-up call” system. It takes energy for your body to express pain to you. Pain is intended (believe it or not) to be a helpful gift. For the most part, your body chugs along and takes care of all internal biochemical business (millions and millions of chemical reactions each second) without your knowledge. But when the body needs help, it lets us know via symptoms…often something that involves pain. Pain lets you know that your body needs you to change. Needs you to change your choices or your environment in some way because the body is suffering. Culturally, however, instead of honoring the gift of pain and caring closely for the body as a priority, we prefer to pop a pill to numb it. So we can ignore it. Over years and years, this ignoring usually involves a higher price: a larger and more alarming diagnosis that we no longer can ignore.
Because NSAIDs are mostly sold without prescription, we also tend to have an inaccurate view of their safety. Indeed, the catch-22 of medications! Prostaglandins increase pain perception, but they also play many important, positive and protective roles in the body e.g. controlling glomelular filtration rate in kidneys, driving acid production in the stomach, promoting blood clotting in response to injury, and fighting infections. Blocking their action has unintended consequences.
It is well established that NSAIDS have a corrosive effect on the protective mucosal lining of the stomach and the intestines. We also know they can increase blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease (primarily through negative impact in kidneys).
Occasionally, people will notice dramatic negative consequences even with one or two doses taken as recommended on the bottle. This news article may seem far-fetched to you, but I personally have actually encountered this in several clients.
The even larger concern is with ongoing use. Taking NSAIDs once or twice a day for a couple of weeks – much less a few months – can set the stage in most people for the development of downstream dysfunction. Here is the kind of cascade we have seen in – easily – more than a hundred Purpose clients over the years… By eroding the protective lining of the intestines, NSAIDs can create painful gastritis (a painkiller causing more pain? yes!). NSAIDs can also cause intestinal permeability which then creates food sensitivities that cause systemic inflammation (arthritis, anyone!?). By impairing the strength of our immune system in that intestinal lining, NSAIDs also cause us to become more vulnerable to imbalances and overgrowths of microbes in the intestines, possibly setting the stage for IBS and perhaps acid reflux or even autoimmune disease.
Our expertise is tracing these kinds of negative cascades of dis-ease in each unique person. Then, we help each client with unwinding and addressing step-by-step what they need to return to a true state of wellness. But where possible, it’s so much easier to just avoid the cascade entirely! I’ve written before about using curcumin as a natural, alternative anti-inflammatory agent – one that actually has positive side effects. Other excellent, anti-inflammatory, plant extract alternatives include bromelain, quercetin, and boswellia. Each person responds to various herbs differently. If curcumin isn’t optimal for you, a combination of these other agents might be more effective e.g. as found in Thorne’s PhytoProfen (a fun play on the drug name ibuprofen). Your KNEW Health Coach can help you further customize and explore optimal choices for your unique health concern.
Herbal anti-inflammatory extracts can be an excellent short-term solution for pain. Remember, however, that very often, persistent pain is simply looking for us to make simple lifestyle changes – and sustain them. Drink more water. Drink less coffee, sugar, and alcohol. Go to bed earlier. Start eating more whole, nutrient-dense foods. Stop eating inflammatory, edible, food-like substances. Truly relax. Stretch. Breathe from your belly – more deeply. Stop doing so much and start simply savoring life more. Get off the couch and move, especially in nature. Choose forgiveness and empathy rather than anger and resentment. All of these: opportunities to live on purpose and eat on purpose.
By: Tracy Harrison