Pain Medication

By Dr. John W. Phelts, D.C.

I am sure that many of us have seen By advertisements for Advil, Excedrin, or Aleve.  They are promoted as the solution to headaches, back pain, cramping, and arthritis pain.  When we experience pain symptoms, we remember these commercials, and our first instinct is to take one of those medications as a solution to our problem.  The makers of these over-the-counter medications spend millions of dollars on advertising campaigns to suggest that their product is the first thing we should reach for.  Obviously their marketing works, because that is what we do, and they are very profitable.  However, these marketing ads do not tell us much about their side-effects, or as I like to call them- “undesired effects”.

The FDA warns that NSAIDs May Cause Bleeding, Ulcers, and Death

The pain relieving drugs advertised on TV are part of a category of drugs called Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).  NSAIDs can be sold over-the-counter (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Excedrin, Bayer etc.) or prescribed (Celebrex, Vioxx,Voltaren, Voltarol, and Zipsor etc.).  You should also be aware that NSAIDs are also used in many cold and flu medications.  If you read the labels on these medications you will see that they may cause gastric (stomach) bleeding.   

The FDA warns that: “NSAID medicines can cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach and intestines at any time during treatment. Ulcers and bleeding can happen without warning symptoms and may cause death” 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that, “Even occasional users of NSAIDs—of any age—can develop a peptic ulcer.” 3

In fact, the manufacturers of NSAIDs warn you to stop use if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms (all of which are related to stomach bleeding):

  • feel faint 
  • vomit blood
  • have bloody or black stools
  • have stomach pain that does not get better

NSAIDS Damage Your Intestines And Stomach With Every Dose

One of the problems with NSAIDs is that they damage the stomach and intestinal lining every time that they are ingested.  Over the months or years, after enough damage is done, your stomach and intestines may start to bleed and ulcers can form.

Research has shown that Diclofenac (the generic name for Cambia, Cataflam, Voltaren, Voltarol, and Zipsor) can damage the intestines a second time after digestion.  The liver rids the body of diclofenac by mixing it with bile and excreting it into the intestines.  This gives it a second opportunity to damage the intestinal lining.1,2

Before Bleeding and Ulcers There Is: Leaky Gut Syndrome

Long before there is any evidence of stomach bleeding or ulcers, NSAIDs can cause leaky gut syndrome.  Leaky gut syndrome is a condition in which damage to the intestinal lining results in increased permeability.

Your intestinal lining is made up of many cells tightly adhered to one another.  NSAIDs break down the lining by weakening the junctions between these cells.  This increases the permeability of the stomach and intestinal wall.  When permeability is normal only completely digested food that is readily processed by the body is absorbed into our bodies.  However, when the permeability of the walls is increased too much, then partially digested food can be absorbed across the wall.  Our bodies are not designed to process these large particles.  What is even worse is that drugs and waste products that the liver excretes into your bowels for elimination are reabsorbed back into your blood stream.

The absorption of partially digested food and waste products into our blood stream greatly stresses our metabolic system and as a result, we do not feel good.  Have you ever wondered why foods that never adversely affected you before, now make you feel not so great?  Or have you ever wondered why foods that you were never allergic to before, now cause allergic reactions?  Most people shrug it off and say that they are just getting older.  That is like saying that they don’t have any control over their situation.  You do have control. You simply stop taking the substances that destroy your intestinal lining and consume nutrients that repair it.  

Substances That Damage Intestinal Lining And Increase Permeability.

NSAIDs- weaken the cellular bonds of the intestinal walls

Dysbiosis- an imbalance of your GI flora

 Alcohol consumption- weaken the cellular bonds of the intestinal wall

Grains- Wheat, rice, and spelt contain lectins.  Lectins are incompletely digested proteins that stick to the intestinal walls and causes inflammation of the gut.

 Viruses- open the spaces between the cells of the intestinal wall.

Nutrients That Repair Intestinal Lining:

  • EPA/DHA (found in fish oil)
  • Glutamine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin C
  • N-Acetyl-L- Cysteine
  • Probiotics
  • Turmeric Root
  • Zinc
  • Fiber
  • Flavonoids- found in onions, kale, green beans, broccoli, endives, celery, cranberry, orange juice
  • Carotenoids- found in carrots, apricots, mangoes, squash, papaya, and yams Lycopenes- found in tomatoes, guava, and pink grapefruit, salmon, shellfish, milk, and egg yolks

*See your healthcare professional for recommended dosages.

Natural Alternatives To NSAIDs

Backache- Turmeric Root, Chiropractic

The Common Cold- N-Acetyl-CysteineThyme HerbTurmeric Root, Bromelain,

Headache- Turmeric Root, Chiropractic

Menstrual Cramps- Cramp BarkDong Quai Root ExtractGABA, Chiropractic

Muscular Aches- Turmeric Root, Arnica Montana, Chiropractic

Arthritis Pain- Turmeric Root, Glucosamine, Krill OilBee Propolis


Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the most common form of arthritis.  It occurs when the cartilage cells that line your joints start to wear away.  Cartilage allows movement  between the bones of your joint with very little friction.  When the cartilage cells die, the bones become roughened and movement becomes painful.  Many people with arthritis take NSAIDs to attenuate the pain.  However, one of the undesired effects of NSAIDs is that they retard the growth of joint cartilage ("NSAID and Osteoarthritis - Help or Hindrance?", P. Brooks, et al, Journal of Rheumatology, 1982; 9:3-5.)  Although they decrease the pain, they actually make the problem worse by speeding up the degenerative process of arthritis. 

In contrast, Bee Propolis has been shown to induce cartilage growth in human cartilage tissue.

You Should Know: Leaky Gut Syndrome is related to the following conditions:

Acne ● Aging ● Alcoholism ● Allergies/Food Sensitivities ● Ankylosing spondylitis ● Arthritis ● Asthma ● Autism ● Burns ● Candida Infections ● Celiac disease ● Chemotherapy ● Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ● Crohn’s Disease ● Cystic Fibrosis ● Depression ● Eczema ● Fibromyalgia ● Hyperactivity ● Intestinal Infections ● IBS ● Liver dysfunction ● Lupus● Malabsorption ● Malnutrition ● Psoriasis ● Reiter’s syndrome ● Rheumatoid Arthritis ● Schizophrenia ● Ulcerative Colitis
Leaky gut syndrome can play a role in any of the above conditions.


  1. Jaeschke H. Toxic Responses of the Liver. In: Klaassen CD, ed. Cassarett and Doull’s Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons: 7th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional (2008) pp. 557-582.
  2. Fortun, P., et al., “Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and the small intestine,” Current Opinion in Gastroenterology 2005; 21(2):169-75.