The hidden dangers of masking the pain during a workout…

imageThe use of NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), both prescribed and over the counter, painkillers like ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen and Tylenol, is at an all time high according to latest research by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).

With more women than men hitting these seemingly harmless drugs, they are being given higher doses and using them for longer periods than men, as research has highlighted that women are more likely to have more chronic pain,

While it is widely known that patients with heart defects are advised against NSAID’s, and the drugs increase the risk of ulcers and serious bleeding in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract, little else has deterred their increasing use.  However, researchers at the Duke University Medical Centre recently reported that even in healthy individuals, use of commonly available NSAID’s like ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen are linked with increased risk of stroke.  Not a great start for all the fitness enthusiasts and athletes who commonly take them before every workout or competition!!

One of the most powerful natural antioxidants our body has is glutathione, which greatly helps the liver detoxify acetaminophen (the active ingredient in a number of painkilling drugs).  The key nutrient responsible for the production of glutathione is N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), which is killed off by taking NSAID’s.  It’s for this reason that acetaminophen containing drugs should not be used for minor aches and pains or as a crutch to continue with exercise, but use should be solely for severe pain when recovering from surgery or a severe injury.

NAC is a protein supplements that can be bought from a health food shop, and is recommended to be taken if NSAID’s form part of a regular routine.  Further studies have shown that taking NSAID’s before a workout can increase the side effects typically seen in heavy users, with intestinal damage occurring only an hour after ingesting.

Following exercise, it’s our satellite cells which respond to resistance training and work with the muscle fibres to form lean tissue, and they work hard in the healing of damaged tissue.  Taking NSAID’s is said to reduce production of satellite cells.

According to Dr Michael Loes, author of “Healing Sports Injuries Naturally”, 95% of sports injuries are minor soft tissue traumas such as sprains and strains, contusions or bruising, all resulting in inflammation and pain.  Taking NSAID’s activates pro-inflammatory chemicals, prostaglandins, which encourage sub-acute inflammation in addition to the existing discomfort.

Having studied sports nutrition for 20 years, Dr Michael Loes has discovered that by adding proteases (enzymes that break down protein), such as bromelain (derived from pineapple), and papain (derived from papaya), following a workout, it accelerated muscle recovery and greatly reduced the inflammatory chemical that causes pain and swelling.  A recent study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Research highlights how bromelain and papaya restored muscle power shortly after exercise, quickly re-establishing the portion of muscle strength it had lost.

Enzymes naturally digest food particles first, but when taken on an empty stomach they immediately begin to reverse exercise induced damage to tissues, reducing the chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.  Bodybuilder Lee Labrada recommends taking a multiple enzyme before and after working out.

recommended natural pain relief products include Astaxanthin, acetylene Myristoleate, Curcumin, Ginger, Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils, and Cayenne.

Not forgetting the many simple stress relieving techniques like meditation, hypnotherapy and yoga, a deep tissue massage or acupuncture.  Lack of sleep causes a depletion of serotonin too, our body’s own feel good chemical, which leads to an increase in pain sensitivity.


The use of NSAID’s continues to increase, but the words of warning are to remember the reasons for working out, and be aware of the negative impact of NSAID’s on our ultimate goals.  Be aware of the number of ingested products containing acetaminophen, and think about supplementing with NAC to negate the effects.

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