Gut health has become a topic of increasing interest in recent years, and for good reason. It is now widely recognized that a healthy gut plays a crucial role in overall well-being, from digestion to immune system function and even mental health. For many, issues related to navigating gut health, such can be particularly challenging to manage.
NSAIDs are among the most widely used medications in the world, and they treat a symptom—inflammation. Some common types of NSAIDs include Advil, Motrin, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen (Alieve). These medications are often used to treat short-term back, neck, and muscle pain, but they are also used for chronic pain.
Unfortunately, long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to various side effects, including leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and an increased risk of developing conditions like Crohn's disease.
How NSAIDs Work While Navigating Gut Health
NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of hormone-like chemicals in your body called prostaglandins, which trigger inflammation and fever. While acute inflammation is essential for your immune system to protect your body from bacteria or injury, chronic inflammation can lead to various health issues.
Prostaglandins play a crucial role in inflammation by raising your body's temperature and dilating blood vessels, which causes swelling at the site of inflammation. NSAIDs block a specific enzyme called cyclooxygenases (COX), which produces prostaglandins. While NSAIDs provide temporary pain relief, they also decrease stomach acid production and hinder the protection of your gut lining. This can indirectly affect your immune system.
Your gut health and immune system are closely linked. A healthy gut supports your immune system, which, in turn, helps defend against infections and viruses. When your gut is compromised, so is your immune system.
6 Ways NSAIDs Impact Gut Health
NSAIDs come with a range of side effects, especially if taken at high doses for extended periods. Some common side effects include dizziness, lightheadedness, vertigo, brain fog, and mild headaches. However, the most prevalent side effects are related to gut health:
Bacterial Imbalance: NSAIDs can lead to bleeding, inflammation, and ulcers in the stomach and small intestine. Recent research suggests that these effects result from changes in the gut microbiome balance. Different NSAIDs can affect various bacteria in the gut, causing imbalances unique to each individual.
Digestive Discomfort: Gas, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea are frequently reported side effects of NSAID use. These drugs disrupt the enzymes that protect your gut lining.
Heartburn/GERD: NSAIDs can irritate the lining of your esophagus and intestines, leading to conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn.
Gastrointestinal Ulcers and Bleeding: Prostaglandins, which NSAIDs inhibit, protect the stomach lining by stimulating the release of protective mucus. NSAIDs can reduce the production of this mucus, leading to acid erosion, ulcers, and bleeding in the stomach or small intestine.
Leaky Gut: NSAIDs not only cause leaky gut but can also hinder leaky gut repair. This condition occurs when the tight junctions in your intestinal wall become loose, allowing toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to escape into your bloodstream.
Acute Colitis and Autoimmune Disease: NSAIDs are associated with severe colitis in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and acute colitis. The inflammation caused by NSAIDs, combined with a leaky gut, can trigger autoimmune diseases due to a process called molecular mimicry.
How to Promote a Healthy Inflammatory Response
To support your body's inflammatory response without resorting to gut-damaging NSAIDs, consider the following natural approaches:
1. Liposomal Curcumin: Curcumin, found in turmeric, supports a healthy inflammatory response. Liposomal curcumin supplements are highly absorbable and effective.
2. Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like wild-caught salmon and certain vegetables, facilitate a healthy inflammatory response by helping your body produce prostaglandins.
Now that you have the tools for a healthy inflammatory response, let's explore gut repair after using NSAIDs using the proven 4R approach.
Gut Repair with the 4Rs
Rather than merely addressing leaky gut symptoms, it's essential to get to the root cause of your autoimmune disease, and it starts with gut repair. The 4R approach is a proven method used by healthcare professionals to repair the gut:
Remove: Eliminate factors contributing to gut inflammation, such as inflammatory foods, infections, and irritants like alcohol, caffeine, or medications.
Restore: Add back essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that may have been depleted, such as digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile acids.
Reinoculate: Restore beneficial bacteria to rebalance your gut microbiome. Probiotic supplements can help achieve this.
Repair: Provide nutrients to reduce gut inflammation. Supplements for Leaky Gut can support gut healing.
NSAIDs have a wide range of side effects that can harm your gut, particularly with long-term use. They don't address the root cause of inflammation and can lead to conditions like leaky gut, peptic ulcers and bleeding, digestive discomfort, heartburn and GERD, and autoimmune diseases. By repairing your gut and adopting natural methods to promote a healthy inflammatory response, you can take control of your gut health and work towards optimal well-being. Remember, healing from within is the key to a healthier, happier you.
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Your Wellness Advocate
Ebony Coleman APRN, FNP-C
Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner