It damages the intestines of athletes A drug soothing inflammation and with pain-relieving properties, many athletes favor ibuprofen as part of their practice. However, it is not free from adverse effects, particularly on the digestive system.
Taking Anti-Inflammatories, A Common Practice Among Athletes
To prevent the appearance of aches after training or to silence the pain of an injury, some athletes resort to ibuprofen (Advil, Nurofen, etc.) or other medications from the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories family ( NSAIDs). The practice is more or less widespread depending on the sport: it concerns 12% of cyclists and 90% of professional football players and does not spare amateur athletes. However, it is far from trivial.
The Effects Of ibuprofen On The Intestine
Dutch researchers assessed the impact of these drugs on the digestive systems of nine healthy cyclists. They subjected the participants to four situations:
- Taking 400 mg of ibuprofen twice before cycling
- Cycling without taking ibuprofen
- Taking 400 mg of ibuprofen twice without engaging in physical activity
- And rest without taking ibuprofen
In each of these conditions, different measurements were carried out to study the impact of these scenarios on the health of the small intestine. This first portion of the intestine plays a vital role in assimilating nutrients.
Sport And ibuprofen Combine To Cause Lesions On The Intestinal Mucosa
The first of these analyses consisted of studying the intestinal fatty acid binding protein (i-FABP) level in a blood sample. This protein is present inside the cells, making up the small intestine’s lining. In the event of damage, it is released into the bloodstream. Raising its concentration makes it possible to detect small intestine lesions. At rest, without taking ibuprofen, the participants had an average level of 352 pg/mL. It increased in other situations:
- Rolling raised it to 474 pg/mL
- Taking ibuprofen at 507 pg/mL
- The two situations combined caused the result to jump to more than double the baseline level: 875 pg/mL
Cycling, like taking ibuprofen, therefore, causes damage that accumulates in the small intestine.
The Intestinal Barrier Is Damaged When Sport Is Combined With Taking ibuprofen
In addition to helping to assimilate nutrients, the wall of the small intestine provides the function of a selective filter. When intact, it prevents the passage of undesirable elements (microbial compounds, allergens, etc.) into the blood circulation. To test its permeability in the four situations previously described, the participants were subjected to a test consisting of ingesting two sugars.
One of small size (mannitol) and the other of larger size (lactulose) should be stopped almost entirely by the intestinal wall. By analyzing the quantity of these sugars passed into the urine, we assess the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Again, the results showed that the combination of sports practice and ibuprofen led to the most marked increase in intestinal permeability. This situation is conducive to the appearance of various health problems.
Digestive Risks With Painkillers Are Not Limited To ibuprofen
Reading this data, it is tempting to want to turn to another pain medication other than ibuprofen. The family of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories does indeed include other molecules such as acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), ketoprofen (Ketum), or diclofenac (Voltaren / Voltaren), but they all share this digestive toxicity. Their long-term use is associated with worrying intestinal complications: ulceration of the mucosa, bleeding, perforation, etc.
We speak of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug enteropathy. It is likely to cause iron deficiency anemia because of the blood loss it causes. While paracetamol, a painkiller that is not part of the NSAID family, is generally considered safer, regularly taking doses greater than 2g per day also increases the risk of digestive bleeding. This medication also poses its share of problems.
A High Price To Pay For Unproven Benefits
The objective pursued by athletes is, of course, to increase their physical performance. By pushing back the pain, it becomes possible to increase the training rates by multiplying the number of sessions and their intensity. However, the scientific data validating this approach are insufficient.
Natural Alternatives To ibuprofen
To overcome the side effects of painkillers, it is preferable to turn to natural alternatives:
- Combined with branched amino acids (BCAA), Taurine effectively fights against muscle aches.
- Melatonin has pain-relieving properties and does not negatively impact sports performance through a soothing effect. Taking 10 mg in the evening after an intense workout reduces the feeling of fatigue and muscle pain and improves specific performance the next day.
- Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are anti-inflammatory, and supplementation improves sports performance.