One in ten American adults regularly uses prescription painkillers, with many more using non-prescription pain relief medicine every day. Whether these are over-the-counter medications or powerful prescriptions, painkillers can seem like miracles in a bottle. Living with pain can be debilitating, and nobody should have to suffer. But while the use of synthesized painkillers can take away the pain, there is often an unfortunate health trade-off.
All types of painkillers can have serious negative health effects. While the benefits of painkillers include fast relief, long-term negative effects on the body can lead to more or worse pain down the road. Even drugs as common as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can pose risks to your health if you use them frequently. While there are many categories of painkillers, the two that most people are familiar with are NSAIDs and opioids. These can have negative effects throughout the entire body and should be taken with caution. The need for caution is extremely important for long-term use.
Risks To The Brain
While NSAIDs and other over-the-counter medications don’t have many long-term effects on the brain, narcotics certainly do. Opioid painkillers work by blocking the brain’s perception of pain by interfering with the signals transmitted by the nervous system to the brain. These narcotic pain relievers are depressants, meaning they decrease the feeling of pain by depressing the central nervous system. Long-term opioid use can kill brain cells and permanently damage your memory, while short-term use often leads to slurred speech, slower reaction times, and even slowed breathing due to the reduced function of the central nervous system.
Risks To The Heart
Many types of painkillers can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system. Some NSAIDs can interfere with managed hypertension and can cause higher blood pressure. Opioid painkillers are linked to increased risk of heart disease, and studies of their long-term use are grim for heart health. Opioid use increases the risk of unstable angina, myocardial infarction, heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. While these conditions are more common in people with pre-existing heart conditions, this is not true of the increased danger of stroke.
One of the biggest risks of synthesized opioids is the increased risk of atrial fibrillation, more commonly known as AFib. AFib means that the heartbeat is uneven and does not move blood properly from the heart’s upper chamber to the lower chambers. The heartbeats are out of sync, and that means that the blood doesn’t move evenly to the arteries. This leads to blood gathering in the heart, which may result in clots, which in turn can enter an artery leading to the brain and cause a stroke.
Risks To The Digestive System
Over the counter NSAIDs are well-known for the potential side effects they can have on your digestive system. Short-term use can lead to indigestion and stomach ache, which are just minor problems, but long-term use can have much more serious side effects. These include gastritis, ulcers, and even gastrointestinal bleeding in your stomach or bowel. They can also irritate the stomach lining and make it less resistant to gastric acid.
Opioid painkillers are also known to cause serious digestive problems. Opioid-induced bowel dysfunction, or OIBD, affects nearly ⅓ of patients so severely that they quit taking their prescribed painkillers. Symptoms of OIBD include nausea, vomiting, anorexia, gastric reflux, constipation, delayed digestion, and abdominal pain, among others.
Risks To The Liver and Kidneys
Your liver and kidneys are your body’s natural detoxification system. Your kidneys cleanse the blood of toxins and transform waste into urine. Your liver regulates the chemicals in your bloodstream and processes and removes toxins and other waste products from your blood. Without good, healthy liver and kidney function, your body cannot properly cleanse itself of harmful waste buildup. These organs can be heavily impacted by the use of synthesized painkillers.
The risk of liver damage from painkillers is lower than the risk of kidney damage, but it can still occur. Liver damage is the most common cause of NSAIDs being withdrawn from the market. Even though it is relatively rare, liver damage is still a concern worth worrying about when using NSAIDs or opioids on a regular basis.
There is one class of painkiller, however, that can be very dangerous for the liver. Acetaminophen is a non-NSAID over the counter painkiller, and even short-term use can cause long-term problems, as it is processed entirely in the liver. Acetaminophen is found in many other pain medications, so it’s very easy to accidentally double-dose yourself. Unfortunately, this can lead to acetaminophen overdose, which is one of the most common drug toxicities.
Kidney damage is much more frequent than liver damage from painkiller use. Over the counter pain medicines are known to cause damage to your kidney tissue. This damage can progress to chronic kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure. The American Kidney Foundation estimates that between 3% and 5% of all new kidney failure cases each year are caused by damage from painkiller use. Opioids are also dangerous for the kidneys and are linked to acute kidney injury and renal failure.
While acute pain brought on by illness or injury may truly require immediate medical intervention, daily aches and pains brought on by wear and tear to the body can be addressed with various natural alternatives to painkillers. Physical changes, such as practicing mindful movements like yoga, can help keep the body stable and relieve pain. There are numerous natural compounds, like capsaicin, piperine (found in black pepper), and CBD that fight sources of pain like acute and chronic inflammation. Another natural compound that is known for its anti-inflammatory properties is turmeric.
However, the active chemical compound in turmeric, curcumin, works best when combined with other compounds. This is because it is metabolized very fast when taken by itself. Combining turmeric with other anti-inflammatory compounds can be a healthy alternative to painkillers. Our Relief capsule combines the highest quality lab-tested CBD with turmeric to keep inflammation down, reducing the pain you experience daily.