10 Ways to Protect Your Gut if you have to take Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) or other NSAIDs

I may receive a commission if you purchase through links in this post. I am not a doctor; please consult your practitioner before changing your supplement or healthcare regimen.

While I haven’t taken ibuprofen for many years, I have loved ones who use it occasionally or rely on it regularly. This article looks at what happens to the gut and organ systems as a result of repeated ibuprofen use, noticeable symptoms that may occur and some possible alternatives. The article also provides solutions for how to protect the gut and organ systems when ibuprofen use is unavoidable. But ultimately, whether the product is branded Advil, Motrin, Nurofen or is the generic drug ibuprofen, we need to know that, long term, understanding the cause of one’s pain and addressing that health issue should become a priority instead of allowing the insidious damage caused by this dangerous pain killer.

Approved by the FDA in 1974, ibuprofen is an over-the-counter, nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that many turn to for pain relief, to reduce inflammation or to reduce fever. Chemicals called prostaglandins are released by the body to cause these symptoms, and ibuprofen works by blocking the enzyme (cyclooxygenase) that makes prostaglandins. What patients often don’t realize are the specific side effects that are silently occurring within their bodies as a result.

Warning: There are many conditions and medications that are contraindicated with the use of ibuprofen. Common medications should not be taken alongside ibuprofen unless a doctor has been consulted. Similarly, there are medical conditions that can worsen with the use of ibuprofen, including asthma, solid-organ transplants, anatomical abnormalities and cystic fibrosis. Those who are breastfeeding should also avoid ibuprofen.

containers of advil, ibuprofen, motrin, dangers of nsaids, how to protect gut

Briefly, the Dangers of Ibuprofen Use

It is estimated that one in five long-term ibuprofen users will develop gastrointestinal difficulties directly resulting from ibuprofin use. As one PubMed study says,

The major adverse reactions include the affects on the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), the kidney and the coagulation system…It has been estimated that 1 in 5 chronic users (lasting over a long period of time) of NSAIDs will develop gastric damage which can be silent. (source)

How does GIT damage occur? Briefly, ibuprofen reduces DAO levels, an enzyme that helps to break down and clear histamines. Elevated levels of histamine in the gut increases zonulin, which is the protein that breaks apart the epithelial cells that line the gut. Thus ibuprofen causes leaky gut and allows food particles into our blood stream, causing food sensitivities and autoimmunity. (source and source)

Other dangers include:

  • Increased bleeding after an injury, as NSAIDs reduce the blood’s ability to clot.
  • Ulcers of the stomach or intestine.
  • Impaired kidney function, kidney disease and lithium toxicity.
  • Increased risk of heart attacks, stroke and heart failure.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Fluid retention.

Using the lowest possible dose of ibuprofen reduces the risks associated with ibuprofen use. More frequent use and higher doses of ibuprofen increase risk factors.

If You Have to Take Ibuprofen

If a patient is in great pain (or has inflammation) and has no other alternative in the moment, what can they do to protect their gut and organ systems from the damage ibuprofen causes? Or if a patient has discontinued the use of NSAIDs but wishes to heal the damage already done to the GIT, the following are supplements and lifestyle choices to consider:

  1. NAC — N-Acetyl L-Cysteine is an amino acid that can protect mitochondria from the damage antibiotics cause. Similarly, NAC, being a precursor to glutathione, helps the gut to rebuild itself, even while damage is occurring. NAC also cleanses the liver, helping to detoxify the system of ibuprofen. (Find NAC here. I consider this the best brand.) Taking 1000-2000 mg of NAC daily with Alpha Lipoic Acid amazingly restores ideal levels of glutathione. (source)
  2. Alpha Lipoic Acid — Involved in energy production and detoxification, ALA works with NAC to effectively rebuild glutathione levels. (source) ALA becomes depleted during times of stress, and used as a supplement is highly effective in healing the gut as well as balancing blood sugar levels and brain health.
  3. Vitamin C — A powerful antioxidant, Vitamin C is also a co-factor required by collagen to rebuild tissue. Vitamin C helps the body to detoxify and reduces excess histamine. As mentioned earlier, histamine overload is a bi-product of ibuprofen use. (Find easy to assimilate Vitamin C here.)
  4. Chlorella — Chlorella is a binder. It clings to toxic substances, helping to usher them from the body. Chlorella also reduces histamine levels and provides antioxidants. (Find Chlorella here. Use code BEAUTIFUL10 at checkout for 10% off your entire order.)
  5. Quercetin — Quercetin reduces histamines and noticeably reduces inflammation. (Find Quercetin here.)
  6. Reduce or eliminate sugar and grains, at least temporarily — Sugar and grains are both hard for the body to digest, taxing the epithelial cells that line the gut. This gut lining is significantly compromised by the increased histamine levels that ibuprofen causes. By removing grains and sugar, and adding in NAC, ALA and Vitamin C, we are removing antagonistic foods and providing healing agents, thus allowing the gut to repair itself without further aggravation. (Removing lectins may also be helpful, as lectins are also caustic to the GIT.)
  7. Kidney — If kidney damage is suspected, Ancestral Supplements now makes a grass-fed kidney product that provides DAO, which reduces histamine levels. This pure organ product also heals through the “like cures like” approach that Chinese, homeopathic and naturopathic medicine utilize. (I personally love this product; it’s one of my favorite supplements for several healing uses!) (Find Grass-fed Kidney here.)
  8. Add in Betaine HCl with Pepsin or Digestive Bitters — Both of these products assist digestion by creating the right pH in the gut. The right pH for digesting foods also helps to close the sphincter valves to the esophagus and small intestine, produce bile which clings to toxins and helps to usher them from the body; and an acidic stomach during meals cleanses the liver, providing appropriate and necessary detoxification. Perhaps most noticeably, Betaine HCl or Bitters help to digest meat and fat, so our belly’s digestion feels light and efficient, which means the lining can heal more easily. (Find HCl with Pepsin here. This is my favorite Digestive Bitters.)
  9. Magnesium — If you’re not already taking this mineral, it alone can often produce relief from one’s symptoms! If you take ibuprofin for pain relief (cramps, headaches, muscle spasms), magnesium quickly addresses the cause of these symptoms and is often a solution in and of itself. Magnesium glycinate is a compounded product that also gently addresses constipation, helping the body to detoxify. Doctors (and here) recommend you find your magnesium dosage by increasing until stools become soft. Reduce pills by one if your stool is too soft. Read more about magnesium here. (Find my preferred magnesium here. If extreme constipation plagues you, find magnesium citrate here.)
  10. Reduce stress — Amazingly, stress wreaks havoc on our body’s ability to detoxify, cleanse and heal itself. When we are in stress mode our bodies put their energy into fight and flight. When we reduce stress, our bodies are able to turn their energy to our organ systems, regenerating and healing. To cleanse and detoxify, our bodies should be in healing mode. Here’s a lovely and helpful article about stress and how to reduce it.

Symptoms That Ibuprofin Can Cause, and other NSAIDs

It’s important to know the names and be aware of other NSAIDs too, which can cause the same side effects as ibuprofen:

  • Aspirin
  • Aleve (naproxen sodium)
  • Celebrex
  • Naprosyn (naproxen)
  • Lodine (etodolac)
  • Mobic
  • Nalfon (fenoprofen)
  • Daypro (oxaprozin)
  • Ansaid (flurbiprofen)
  • Cambia / Cataflam / Voltaren (diclofenac)
  • COX-2 Inhibitors

Symptoms associated with the use of NSAIDs include fluid retention, dizziness, headaches, confusion, raised liver enzymes (detected through blood test), diarrhea, high blood pressure, hives or other skin irritation, gastric pain, nausea, ulcers of the esophagus, kidney complications and asthma. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience swollen ankles, black stools, difficulty breathing or dark, coffee colored vomit.

If you’ve used NSAIDs and feel concerned, consider seeing a functional medical doctor. Certain groups are at higher risk: those who are aging, those with a history of heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, ulcers or high blood pressure. Drinking alcohol also increases risk factors. For the following symptoms consider alternative methods for healing from NSAIDs (and alternatives to NSAIDs):

  1. Hives – bruise-like tender spots on the body, one or more, varying shapes and sizes
    Possible Solutions- Reduce histamines in diet and environment; cleanse and detox; castor oil pack on liver; add in DAO supplement.

  2. Asthma
    Possible Solutions- Remove dairy from one’s diet, consider other food intolerances, remove sugar and grains from diet; reduce stress.

  3. Gastric pain, nausea or other gastric problems, including kidney complications
    Possible Solutions- Remove grains and sugar from diet (like this or this), begin gut-healing protocol; consider kidney supplement.

While NSAIDs seek to relieve symptoms, functional medicine looks for the root cause of one’s symptoms. Healing the cause removes not only the symptoms but also the underlying sickness.

containers of advil, ibuprofen, motrin, dangers of nsaids, how to protect gut

Alternatives to Ibuprofin Use

The best approach to wellness is finding the cause of our symptoms. Instead of masking the symptoms, we look for their root cause and treat that (or multiple causes). Finding a good functional medical doctor and an insightful naturopathic physician can be the key to this process. This website seeks to connect patients with functional medical doctors.

Tempted to reach for acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead? Just like ibuprofen affects the gut, acetaminophen affects the liver. Opt for minerals like magnesium instead, and finding the cause of your symptoms.

Alternative therapists can also be a source of long term healing from pain and symptoms. Consider finding a craniosacral practitioner or a therapist who specializes in body work. Ask your naturopathic or functional medical doctor for a recommendation uniquely suited to your situation.

Consider clean eating and detoxification methods: Enjoy fresh cilantro frequently with meals, consume more organic vegetables than meat, eliminate grains (including gluten) and all A1 dairy, refined sugar and processed foods, take chlorella daily (which is nutritious but also binds with toxins and heavy metals and helps to usher them from the body), include prebiotics (like this one) in the diet, drink plenty of mineral water according to your thirst level (supplemented with soil minerals like these), take a high-quality Vitamin C daily and magnesium nightly before bed. Also consider removing lectins if stomach problems are an issue. Consider supplements like quercetin and virgin cod liver oil to reduce inflammation. Take digestive enzymes, Betaine HCl or digestive bitters to support comfortable and effective digestion.

What is your story? Have you taken ibuprofin for years? Are you looking for an alternative or healing from side effects? Share below.

Additional Sources

Comments 15

  1. Great post with good solid info (as usual!) As a practicing herbalist, I tend to use a few of these ideas and then herbs for a lot of the nourishment + care. Bitters can definitely be helpful ~ So many herbs are actual anti-inflammatories themselves. Agreed.. definitely important to attempt to find the cause of whatever pain is present. Thanks for your research!

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  2. I appreciate the time you put into this Megan- it does happen sometimes when it has to be used! When I broke my wrist I just didn’t have a choice for the days that followed or I was miserable! This would have been helpful then! I am keeping this around if I ever need it! Thank you!

  3. It’s shocking how damaging these over the counter drugs can be and how few people know about the dangers. Very important, especially for parents who give these drugs to their kids.

  4. I used to take it a lot in my teens and 20’s for my past chronic headaches and migraines. I’m so glad I stopped taking it before I got pregnant with my first child. I did take it once several years ago with an incredibly painful ear infection after trying as many natural things as I could. I felt guilty taking it but was desperate. It’s great to have all of these alternative options to take instead and/or tips for what to do if you’ve had to take it. Great post.

  5. Excellent informative post as usual – thanks! I must chime in however, regarding Alpha Lipoic Acid. It is a powerful chelator. Anyone with any amount of mercury toxicity, and that includes anyone with mercury in their fillings, should not take it as a supplement. It will pull heavy metals from hiding places in the body and redistribute it to possibly more dangerous places. See the Cutler Protocol for explanations on how to properly chelate. If you take ALA, you must take it on a round the clock schedule, as the half life is short and then the ALA lets go of the mercury before it has a chance to leave the body. ALA is in many supplements. People take it and feel bad and they don’t know why. It’s because heavy metals are mobilized.

  6. Thank you so much for your diligent–and always excellent–investigative work, Megan. This is fantastic! With a family member having just gotten out of the hospital followed by 6 weeks at a skilled nursing facility–and packed full of the residual effects of drugs, including Ibuprofen–the timing of this article is perfect. Again, awesome work here. HUGE thanks!!

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  7. I always worry about people who take ibu and tylenol regularly….if I had only known…I would not have relied on it for my baby’s teething pain and other aches and pains!! So good to have some ideas on how to help mitigate

  8. Thanks for sharing this! Every once in a while I get a debilitating headache that no natural remedies can help. Ibuprofen is the only thing that works. Good to know how to counteract it!

  9. Great info thanks so much. It’s a minefield of advice out there and much of it contradictory…I’ve had debilitating histamine intolerance all year…after dental work (root canal) and antibiotics and ibrobrufen use it now makes sense that I have leaky gut…will cut out A1 milk and lectins, nightshades…but am so in love with my morning coffee I’m reluctant to give it up as well if I don’t need to?…would love your advice

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      Hi Paula, I know it’s hard to let go of coffee. For me, I needed to. Everyone is different. For gut healing, it’s advised to at least scale back to weak coffee. But I don’t like weak coffee, so for me it was better to give it up entirely and to find other hot drinks I enjoyed. In any case, it’s worth it! 🙂 Best wishes!

  10. I have been taking advil (by doctors request) for over 25 years for: chronic pain, fibromyalgia, having an organ removed(that was left to rot inside me for 4 or 5 months), phantom organ pain(due to dr’s making me wait so long), caner, chronic cluster migraines for past 20 years(which they caused by making me left wait with my neck to somehow help my pelvis… only 3 appointments and I was having 5-8 migraines for the next 5 years), I have DDD, spinal problems… list goes on for awhile 🙁
    Yet EVERY SINGLE DR, and I have seen over 130 drs for this(yes I counted) and every single one say the same thing, take2-4 advil; it will stop the pain. It doesn’t do anything, so they tell me to take 2 more, so 4-6. Same thing no effect. So… they tell me to take 2 more; now the count is up to 6-8 and still… NO EFFECT. I mean it says it is for acute pain not pain that lasts 25 years and still continues.
    Few weeks ago dr tells me to take genetic test(a 5,000$ test) to see what meds will work based of my dna or some @#$%. So I do; guess what he tells me. That’s right take advil…Does it take 5,000$ just to tell a patient the SAME med that 130+ doctors have told me to take? And they know it does not work…
    Advil and the likes are the reason that 100 MILLION Americans suffer from chronic pain. Because every Dr thinks you treat chronic pain (lasts longer then 6 months) with an otc drug that is ONLY for acute pain.
    This is a major violation of human rights, medical rights, and the 7th amendment (I think that’s the one); which states “Cruel and unusual punishment.” ALL because doctors believe, they actually believe since their is an OTC drug that works for acute pain it MUST work for everything!
    Advil is a magical OTC med lol, it can stop cancer pain, it can give you that house you always wanted, it can give you ESP, it can do any non-sense but treat chronic pain. Call the factory, they will tell you the same! If you are taking it for longer then a month(esp if a doctor says so) you need to stop and consider a lawyer. Another doctor isn’t going to do it, because they just go back to the Advil makes EVERYTHING better…

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