Dangers of taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Gut Feeling

I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad.

In previous e-Alerts I’ve written about the dangers of taking

non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. But just today I came across a commentary about NSAIDs published in a 2001 issue of the journal Clinical Cornerstone. And here’s the statistic I found surprising: Well over 100,000 hospitalizations per year are attributed to upper gastrointestinal adverse events associated with long-term NSAIDs use. But this statistic is positively shocking: About 15 percent of those patients die as a result of their adverse reactions.

That’s right: An estimated 16,500 deaths are directly linked to long-term NSAIDs use every year. And are those pious congressmen who spearheaded an emotional drive to ban ephedra last year lining up to demand a ban of all NSAIDs? Please – don’t make me laugh. And don’t get me started!

And yet, as bad as this situation was assessed to be in 2001, a new study shows that it may be even worse.

If you know anyone who recently stopped using Vioxx or Celebrex and switched to NSAIDs use on a regular basis, this is an e-Alert they can’t afford to miss.

Inside peek

The frequency and severity of small intestine lesions caused by NSAIDs use is unclear. In the January 2005 issue of the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine report on a study that assessed how much damage may be caused by persistent use of these drugs.

The researchers recruited 21 men and women (their average age was about 50) who had different types of arthritis. All of these subjects had used NSAIDs daily for at least three months. A control group of 20 subjects who didn’t use NSAIDs was also recruited.

All of the subjects underwent video capsule endoscopy. This is a unique internal imaging system that requires the patient to swallow a capsule that contains a miniature camera. As the capsule passes through the small intestine, the video reveals polyps, lesions, erosions and ulcers that other tests usually miss. Each video was reviewed by two investigators who were not aware of any subject’s NSAIDs use.

The results were conclusive. More than 70 percent of the NSAIDs users had some type of bowel injury (ranging from minor erosions to significant ulcers), while only 10 percent in the control group showed injury. Five subjects in the NSAIDs group had major damage. No major damage was reported in the control group.

In their conclusions, the Baylor team wrote, “Small-intestinal mucosal injury is very common among chronic NSAID users.”

Heavy on the heart

This is a tough time for people who suffer from arthritis. Vioxx was taken off the market in October because cumulative research linked the drug to a high risk of heart attacks and strokes. A recent study showed that Celebrex may also increase heart attack risk. And another study that compared Aleve (the brand name of naproxen) to Celebrex was halted, citing evidence that Aleve may trigger heart attacks and strokes.

So where can arthritis patients turn? Here’s a quick rundown of three natural treatments that don’t put patients at risk of life-threatening side effects.

COD LIVER OIL: In the e-Alert “Tremors & Aftershocks” (10/18/04), I told you about research that shows how cod liver oil may reverse the actions of the enzymes that break down cartilage. In fact, studies suggest that taking cod liver oil can even prevent the development of arthritis, while reducing symptoms in those already afflicted with the disease.

ACUPUNCTURE: In the e-Alert “House of Cards” (12/28/04), I told you about a study of 570 patients with knee osteoarthritis. Among the subjects who were treated with acupuncture, 40 percent reported reduced pain. These subjects also had significant improvements in knee mobility and function.

NICOTINAMIDE: In a National Institutes of Health study, this anti-inflammatory nutrient (a derivative of niacin – also known as vitamin B3) relieved arthritis pain by almost 30 percent and improved range of motion and flexibility in joints.

These natural treatments are just three that stand out. Over the years, HSI has written about several safe alternatives to NSAIDs. In the June 2001 HSI Members Alert, we told you about the topical deep-tissue oil Pain Away (now called Soothanol), a formula that combines 12 proven painkillers. In July 2000, we covered Ayurvedic herbal formulas like Boswellia, an anti-inflammatory. And in a 2001 e-Alert, I told you about Lyprinol, a natural remedy proven to inhibit one of the biochemical pathways required for inflammatory response.

And another thingThe milk industry and the USDA have done such a good job of scaring the public away from raw milk products that for many people the truth just doesn’t compute.

In the e-Alert “The Milkman Cometh” (12/22/04), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., made a comment that a member named Todd has a question about: “In ‘The Milkman Cometh’ Dr. Spreen was quoted as writing, ‘It was consistently shown that there were fewer bacteria in raw milk than the pasteurized variety.’ Kindly provide me with the reference for that information.”

Dr. Spreen’s source for that surprising fact comes from Mathis Dairy. Dr. Spreen explains: “Mathis Dairy was hounded (mercilessly) by the conventional dairy lobby in Georgia until their raw milk business was outlawed. They consistently showed (and had to during the fight) that pasteurized milk was not bacteria-free, and their certified raw milk (due to vastly more stringent dairy procedures) had a lower bacteria count.”

But that’s not the only source for that bacteria comparison.

Dr. Spreen has often referred to the work and writings of Sally Fallon, a nutrition researcher who founded the Weston A. Price Foundation and A Campaign for Real Milk. On that campaign’s web site (realmilk.com) she writes, “The overall bacteria count of milk produced under clean conditions is much lower than that of pasteurized milk.”

In addition, Ms. Fallon notes that raw milk bacteria are the healthy bacteria of lactic-acid fermentation. She describes the bacteria in pasteurized milk as “the bacteria of spoilage.”

That’s the word of an internationally respected milk researcher. Now here’s real-world confirmation from an HSI member named Billie who is a dairy farmer. Billie writes, “My ‘working girls’ milk tested far freer of bacteria than the count allowed in store bought milk.

“My Girl’s RAW: 1 Coliform Unit / 2,500 plate count.

“Gov. Allowed in store bought: 10 Coliform Units/50,000 plate count.”

Standard plate count determines the bacterial density of milk, while coliform units are commonly referred to as “fecal coliform units.” ‘Nuff said!

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“Visible Small-Intestinal Mucosal Injury in Chronic NSAID Users” Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Vol. 3, No. 1, January 2005, cghjournal.org

“Stud Shows Long-Term Use of NSAIDs Causes Severe Intestinal Damage” American Gastroenterological Association, 1/3/05, eurekalert.org

“Understanding NSAIDs: From Aspirin to COX-2” Clinical Cornerstone, Vol. 3, No. 5, 2001, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov