You may have heard recently that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) warnings regarding the long-term use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) and increased risk of heart disease and stroke have been strengthened following a review of research by an expert panel. NSAIDS include familiar drugs such as Motrin, Advil, Aleve, Celebrex and Voltaren. While aspirin is in this same group of drugs, it is not included with the others in this latest warning.
It’s been known for some time that NSAIDS increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as increase blood pressure and the risk of kidney failure. The risks go up even with relatively short-term continuous use of a few weeks. The article I saw about this issue recommended switching to acetominophen (Tylenol), with the caveat that Tylenol increases the risk of liver damage! Hmmm. Seems to be a pattern here.
Now, there is no need to panic if you’ve used any of these drugs in the past. There are times when I tell patients to use them for quick relief. They can be powerful allies in the short term if you’re dealing with a severe headache or recent injury as long as you don’t have heart disease, kidney disease, or high blood pressure. There isn’t any evidence that I’m aware of that they’ve injured anyone after a few doses. The problems enter when you take them continually for treatment of long-term conditions such as arthritis or frequent headaches.
There seems to be acceptance of the idea within the medical community and the pharmaceutical companies that trading the health of one organ system for another is OK. We eliminate your joint pain, but give you a heart attack instead. At least you’ll be more comfortable lying in your hospital bed!
If you think about it, these tradeoffs are part of a larger pattern in our culture. For example, we solve the problems of powering our economy and keeping ourselves warm by burning fossil fuels. We solve the problem of dwindling fuel supplies by fracking, offshore drilling, tar sands recovery and other environmentally risky methods. Burning fossil fuels creates pollution and heat; fracking despoils water supplies and possibly destabilizes the earth’s crust. We solve one problem and create another, possibly worse one.
One of the best things about natural medicine is that we aren’t faced with the decisions of trading the health of one organ system for another. In the holistic approach, our goal is to bring about a state of balanced health rather than to reduce symptoms in one system by sacrificing the health of another. I wonder what the world might be like if we learn to take the holistic approach to all of our problems?