Heart-Stopping News Alert
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a whopper of an announcement recently. They are increasing the warnings on some very popular pain relieving medications, stating that drugs such as Advil, Aleve, Motrin, and Ibuprofen can trigger a heart attack or stroke within the first few weeks of taking them. The risk of negative side effects appears to increase with dosage and time, and is higher in those with pre-existing heart disease or risk factors for it. These widely-utilized anti-inflammatory medications belong to a class of drugs known as NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).
On July 9, 2015, the FDA announced that “a large number of studies” support these findings. Based on recommendations from their advisory committee in a February 2014 meeting, the FDA (1½ years later, mind you) is now “requiring updates to the drug labels of all prescription NSAIDs” and will follow suit with over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs by requesting updates from manufacturers to enhance warnings on these products as well.
The risk for heart attack, stroke, or complete heart failure may be greater for some NSAIDs over others, however there is not yet sufficient evidence to determine which drugs are ‘worse’, so for now they will likely all be treated equally (regarding new labeling laws). These updated warnings apply to non-aspirin NSAIDs. While aspirin is also classified as an NSAID, according to the FDA “it does not increase the chance of a heart attack. Aspirin can cause bleeding in the brain, stomach, and intestines. Aspirin can also cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines”, but apparently no heart problems.
Are Pain Relievers a Pain in the Heart?
Since the year 2004 the FDA has been conducting an ongoing safety review of NSAID drugs after Vioxx (a pain relieving drug said to be ‘easier on the stomach’) was yanked off the market after being linked with heart attacks and strokes. In 2005 the FDA began requiring labels be printed on drug packaging, warning consumers about the risks of heart attack or stroke following the long-term use of NSAIDs. The FDA is now strengthening their warnings saying that heart attack or stroke can occur in the short-term…within a few weeks.
The FDA warns: “Patients taking NSAIDs should seek medical attention immediately if they experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, weakness in one part or side of their body, or slurred speech.” The FDA would love to hear from you if you are experiencing any of these problems, and “urge you to report side effects involving NSAIDs to the FDA MedWatch program” via the Contact Form on their website. (Do you feel like a guinea pig yet?)
What are NSAIDs?
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of medications that are commonly used to control pain, inflammation, and fever. They include both prescription strength and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as Advil, Aleve, Celebrex, Motrin, naproxen, and ibuprofen (to name a few). These drugs act by blocking an enzyme called “COX 2” which is an important chemical involved in the natural production of inflammation and pain in the body. The NSAID drugs in question are called “COX 2 inhibitors” because they stop pain and inflammation in the body by blocking the COX 2 enzyme.
Chronic Inflammation is an Epidemic
The immune system creates inflammation naturally in response to anything it perceives as a stressor. It’s important to keep in mind that inflammation is a signal from our bodies that something is activating our immune system. Considering that 70% – 80% of our immune system lies in and around the gut wall, it’s not difficult to imagine how food (or imbalanced gut bacteria) could trigger our immune system to start producing inflammation. When the immune system is constantly ‘turned on’ and doesn’t get a break, the inflammation can become long-term at which point it’s called chronic inflammation.
It is speculated that most (if not all) diseases of “modern society” have their roots in chronic inflammation. Autoimmune disorders, cancer, dementia, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and many more degenerative diseases can grow quickly when we have too much inflammation in our bodies. In other words, chronic inflammation can trigger the expression of various diseases that we are genetically predisposed to.
Heart or Ache – There’s No Free Lunch
NSAIDs are used by people of all ages to decrease the pain that results from having too much inflammation in the body. People suffering from conditions characterized by inflammation, such as arthritis, headaches, injuries, autoimmune diseases, menstrual cramps…even the common cold or flu are frequent users of NSAID drugs. I know a lot of folks who pop ibuprofen or Advil like candy to control their daily body pains and stiff joints. Call me old-fashioned, but shouldn’t we be asking what’s causing all of the pain and inflammation in the first place, instead of trying to cover up the problem with a Band-Aid solution, like anti-inflammatory drugs that could make our hearts skip more than just a beat?! Not to mention the other well-known side effects of taking NSAIDs…ulcers, internal bleeding, leaky gut, and who knows what else!?
Unfortunately, many people do not use NSAIDs as recommended, which is to take the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time possible. If consumers don’t heed the warnings, will updated drug labels make much difference? Most of us have become numb to warnings printed on drug packages or rattled off quickly at the end of pharmaceutical commercials. I suppose this isn’t surprising when you consider how quickly the brain learns to tune-out repetitive information. Breaking news headlines put these issues at the top of everyone’s radar, but will the renewed fear in our hearts be enough to change our behavior?
Why I Don’t Think Big Pharma Will Be Losing Any Sleep
I think there’s a bigger problem than the drugs here (and the solution is within mouths’ reach). The problem, as I see it, is 3-fold:
 We are inflamed and clueless – Most people don’t know what is causing them to carry around literally pounds of excess inflammation weight, nor do they realize that this phenomenon is occurring. We only know that it hurts and we just want the pain to go away…so we pop pain pills and try to forget.
A tragic number of people do not understand or will not accept the reality behind what lies at the root of their pain, and many are in total denial about how sick and inflamed they actually are. This was my experience. I thought I was being uber healthy eating a vegetarian/vegan diet for nearly 25 years, yet I ended up developing rheumatoid arthritis and taking boatloads of ibuprofen trying to manage the pain and inflammation that was being caused by the very foods I perceived to be healthy (i.e. grains and legumes).
 We want a quick fix solution to a chronic problem – Many a people simply aren’t willing to give up the things that are making them inflamed. Ironically, we are often addicted to the very foods that we are intolerant to…the ones that tell our immune system to keep producing inflammation. Emotional eating, habit, convenience, addiction, boredom, excuses, denial, self-sabotage, fear, confusion, limited resources, learned helplessness…there are a ton of reasons why people stay stuck in routines that perpetuate the very thing they fear the most…illness and death. The age-old adage “Doctor, it hurts when I do this!” can be applied to this situation. “Well, then don’t do that!” If we don’t want to experience the pain and death that follows chronic inflammation, then we need to quit doing the things that are causing the inflammation in the first place.
 We are biochemical fools. We are guinea pigs. From a physiological perspective, you can’t alter one biochemical pathway and not expect other pathways to also be affected. By blocking our body’s natural inflammatory response, we increase our risk for heart disease, stomach and gut problems, infection, and who knows what else. Is it worth the gamble or tradeoff? Our current science isn’t anywhere remotely close to understanding the widespread effects of altering biochemical pathways in the body with these relatively new pharmaceutical drugs. How many people will have to die in the name of science before we fully understand the side effects? Despite popular belief, scientists and researchers do not have all the answers, and truly… we are the guinea pigs.
Control Your Inflammation NATURALLY
It’s probably not the best idea to wait around for updated FDA recommendations before changing our behavior. Most of us are well aware that improvements could be made in our diets and lifestyles, so let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?
The foods eliminated on the Paleo diet (like grains, legumes, toxic fats, and other processed foods and ‘food products’) are quite likely the BIGGEST CULPRIT responsible for the chronic inflammation epidemic. These foods can readily trigger widespread inflammation in our bodies, and it is precisely this inflammation that lies at the root of the widely-feared “diseases of modern civilization” – heart disease, autoimmunity, cancer, diabetes and mental illness, to name a few.
As it turns out, it’s not so hard to decrease chronic inflammation…safely and naturally, WITHOUT DRUGS.
I ate away my inflammation with the Paleo diet, and you can too! It doesn’t take long to feel and see the results of how eating Paleo decreases inflammation in the body. Pain ceases to exist when we don’t have pounds and pounds of extra fluid in our bodies putting excess pressure on our pain receptors!
It’s time to put our collective foot down and stop the inflammatory madness…by re-learning to eat the foods our bodies can use to heal, instead of perpetuating a chronic state of illness and denial through mindless pill-popping and lazy eating. It was over 2,000 years ago that the “Father of Western Medicine” Hippocrates proclaimed “all disease begins in the gut” and “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. This is not breaking news. We’ve known since antiquity that food and gut health play a key role in the development of disease. We just need to remember what it feels like to live in a body and brain that aren’t bloated and clouded by inflammation. The truth rings as clear as a bell, and is as old as humanity. The truth will speak for itself, once given the chance to be heard.
In good heart,
Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS®