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Do Pain Pills Kill Muscle Growth?

Warning!

One of the things everyone experiences when getting in shape is pain. In order for muscles to grow, you have to push them beyond the point where they're comfortable.

When you exercise, body aches and discomfort are one of the results. It's what you do when the pain starts that can make the difference between getting fit... or falling flat.

In an effort to sell more products, over the counter pain medications are being marketed to young, physically fit adults as an easy way to stop post workout pain. Look inside many gym bags, and you'll see that message has caught on.

In the United States alone more than 70 million people are taking pills like ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen is a class of drugs called NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

These simple little pills can blunt the pain of muscle inflammation (which happens immediately after a workout) or delayed onset muscle soreness (which can happen a day or two after a workout). Pop a pill and the soreness is reduced.

Here's the problem. NSAIDs also decrease muscle growth. You read that right. Over the counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen, as well as prescription NSAIDs like Celebrex actually hinder muscle growth. Here's how it happens.

When muscles are injured or stressed after a workout, an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) is released. That enzyme inflames the muscle and causes pain. NSAIDs work by inhibiting the COX enzyme, reducing inflammation and the related pain.

Reducing pain is generally a good idea. But reducing pain by stopping inflammation is bad. Inflammation is something that muscles must go through to grow. What researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville found, is that people who take NSAIDs after a workout are stopping the muscle-protein synthesis that's required for muscle growth. NSAIDs aren't the only culprit. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol also suppresses protein synthesis.

There's more. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a notice on April 7, 2005 that said:

"Manufacturers of non-prescription (over-the-counter) NSAIDs are being asked to revise their labeling to provide more specific information about the potential cardiovascular events (heart attack risk) and gastrointestinal bleeding risks of their individual products..."

In other words, take these products longer than the labels suggest, and you could suffer "life-threatening" results. The FDA also urged manufacturer's to, "remind patients of the limited dose and duration of treatment of these products..." Because of the extreme risk, one of the prescription NSAIDs, Vioxx was even taken off the market.

That doesn't mean you should never take a pill when you're feeling pain, far from it. NSAIDs are appropriate, even necessary when you have an inflamed injury, need to reduce a fever or have a headache that won't stop. It just means you shouldn't be routinely popping a pill after every workout.

So do you just have to live with workout pain? Probably not. A recent study published in the journal Surgical Neurology showed a possible solution.

Researchers studied 125 people who took NSAIDs regularly for back and/or neck pain. The subjects were given 2,400 mg of omega-3 fatty acids for two weeks and then 1,200 mg a day from then on. After a month the researchers asked subjects about side effects, spine pain, joint pain and if anyone had stopped using NSAIDs.

An amazing 60% of the people who participated in the study stopped taking NSAIDs completely and reported that their overall pain levels had improved. The researchers concluded that up to two-thirds of people currently taking NSAIDs could stop them, switch to omega-3 supplements and alleviate pain from inflammation.

As a bonus, taking omega-3 supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, enhance muscle growth and burn fat. It's the ultimate win-win. But don't go crazy.

If you're going to try omega-3 fatty acids, first check with your doctor and make sure they don't interact with any medications you may currently be taking. Don't take doses higher than the researchers studied and make sure the supplements you purchase are from a reputable manufacturer.

WARNINGS! 

If you take 2,000 mg or more of omega-3 supplements, you should do so under a doctor's supervision. Supplementing with 2,000 mg or more of omega-3 daily can cause heart rhythm abnormalities.

According to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle:

...high concentrations of EPA, DPA and DHA – the three anti-inflammatory and metabolically related fatty acids derived from fatty fish and fish-oil supplements – are associated with a 71 percent increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer. The study also found a 44 percent increase in the risk of low-grade prostate cancer and an overall 43 percent increase in risk for all prostate cancers.

The increase in risk for high-grade prostate cancer is important because those tumors are more likely to be fatal.

It is unclear why fish oil would elevate the risk, but until researchers know more, we suggest you dispose of fish oil supplements. If you have been advised by your doctor to take omega-3 supplements, we suggest you choose ones made with krill, vegetable or flaxseed oil. To avoid supplement danger, simply sprinkle a tablespoon of flax seed over your food once a day.

Here's what you need to know about taking flaxseeds for your omega-3's.

Below we've included a chart of the four most popular pain medications and what they're best for. Remember, long-term usage of any medication should always be approved by your doctor.

Over The Counter Pain Medications - Best Uses


UPDATE: FDA Warning of NSAIDS

On July 9th, 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer update on NSAIDS. The title is: FDA Strengthens Warning of Heart Attack and Stroke Risk for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Next time you reach into the medicine cabinet seeking relief for a headache, backache or arthritis, be aware of important safety information for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

FDA is strengthening an existing warning in prescription drug labels and over-the-counter (OTC) Drug Facts labels to indicate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, either of which can lead to death. Those serious side effects can occur as early as the first few weeks of using an NSAID, and the risk might rise the longer people take NSAIDs. (Although aspirin is also an NSAID, this revised warning doesn’t apply to aspirin.)

The OTC drugs in this group are used for the temporary relief of pain and fever. The prescription drugs in this group are used to treat several kinds of arthritis and other painful conditions. Because many prescription and OTC medicines contain NSAIDs, consumers should avoid taking multiple remedies with the same active ingredient.

You can download the release in PDF format by clicking HERE.

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4/13/2008
Updated 12/5/2011
Updated 1/7/2014
Updated 4/9/2015
Updated 8/10/2015