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Are Your OTC Painkillers Destroying Your Health?

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Over-the-counter medication is safe, right? Wrong. Just like any medication, over-the-counter meds have serious side effects. Find out how these medications could be destroying your health as well as natural alternatives that heal without side effects below.

When you have chronic joint pain, one of the commonly recommended solutions is to take over-the-counter pain medications. Over-the-counter pain medications have fewer side effects and less severe than prescription painkillers.

Most people believe they are safe in taking OTC pain relievers on a regular basis, but in reality, they can have damaging side effects as well.

Take a look at some of the side effects you can encounter when taking OTC pain medication, as well as 6 alternatives that will keep you pain-free and healthy while reducing your joint pain.

Side Effects of Long-Term Painkiller Use

Using painkillers for extended periods is not safe like most people believe. In fact, the longer you take the pills, the more likely you are to see serious and dangerous side effects. Taking over-the-counter medication regularly puts you at risk for developing the following dangerous side effects:

Liver Damage

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be dangerous to the liver. According to studies, acetaminophen can cause liver damage if taken in high doses. Commonly, it is thought that taking acetaminophen in doses of around 4,000 mg per day can cause liver damage, but there are some cases where it may cause damage even in smaller doses.

For example, if a person drinks alcohol or already has some damage to the liver, lower doses will definitely cause damage. In fact, some acetaminophen brands actually recommend a daily dose of around 4,000 mg daily, with 8 500 mg pills. Even if the box says that a high dose is safe, it is important to remain below the 4,000 mg mark to protect your liver.

Additionally, the use of acetaminophen can contribute to liver damage over time. In fact, a 2011 study published in the ”British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology” found that many people actually consume too much acetaminophen in what is termed a “staggered overdose.”

A staggered overdose is simply taking too much of the medication over time, such as taking more than the recommended number of pills daily or taking pills too close together. The study found that individuals suffering from a staggered overdose were more likely to have brain, kidney, and liver problems; need help with breathing, and were more likely to die. Basically, chronic consumption of acetaminophen raises your risk of these dangerous and deadly problems significantly. Over time, even low doses can lead to serious medical problems when taken regularly.

Kidney Damage

Ibuprofen and naproxen are more likely to cause kidney damage than acetaminophen, but taking acetaminophen regularly can also cause kidney problems. Usually, these kidney problems occur when other health problems exist, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. However, many adults today suffer from chronically high blood pressure, which puts them at a higher risk of developing kidney damage.

Just like other medications, continued use of ibuprofen and naproxen increases your risk for kidney damage over time. Stomach Bleeding and Ulcers Ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen both can contribute to an increased risk for stomach bleeding and ulcers.

Any combination of these three medications will also increase your risk of developing stomach ulcers and bleeding. All three of these medications work by affecting the prostaglandin pathways to reduce pain. However, this is also what causes stomach ulcers to form.

As with the other medications, your risks increase the longer you take the medication. If you take any of these medications for more than a couple of days one or two times a month, you are significantly increasing your chances of getting an ulcer (three times more likely to develop stomach ulcers, according to a 2005 study conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association).

In just three days, study participants taking high doses of these painkillers (2400 mg a day, double the normal dose) saw increased stomach bleeding.

Reye Syndrome

Aspirin has many side effects, but one of the worst for children is the risk of developing Reye syndrome. Children who take aspirin for viral infections increase their chances of getting this condition. Reye syndrome is a strange condition that looks like a continuation of the virus but isn’t.

A child with Reye’s will have confusion, muscle weakness, changes in vision, changes in speech, vomiting, lethargy, and a variety of other symptoms.


A study published in the “Canadian Medical Association Journal” found that taking any OTC NSAID in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy doubles a woman’s risk of miscarriage. The researchers theorized that painkillers increase the production of prostaglandin hormones, which stimulate the start of labor.

Most doctors state that acetaminophen is safe for use during pregnancy.


According to some studies, NSAID medications may reduce the effectiveness of the antidepressant selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other studies, however, show that NSAID medications may reduce depression in individuals who do not already take antidepressants. More research is necessary to determine whether the role of NSAID medication is beneficial or extremely harmful in depressed individuals.

Blood Thinning

Most NSAIDs and aspirin medications cause blood-thinning. This is one reason why the extended use of painkillers leads to stomach bleeding. Over time, thinned blood can have a variety of health risks, including an increased risk for internal bleeding, an inability to clot blood, and a risk of complications during surgery. Individuals who are on blood-thinning medication should also avoid the use of NSAIDs and other OTC pain medication.

High Blood Pressure

All OTC pain medications increase your blood pressure. In small doses, this increase is negligible, but at higher doses, it could push a person’s blood pressure into dangerous levels. As with the other health conditions, the longer you continue to take OTC pain medication, the more likely you will have trouble with increased blood pressure. Extended use of painkillers may also continue to raise your blood pressure beyond healthy levels.

Reduce Your Risk of Overdose

Since taking too much of a medication is one of the main triggers for health risks, it is important to watch all of your sources for mild pain killers. For example, many people are unaware that other OTC and prescription medications already contain drugs like aspirin and acetaminophen.

Many cold medicines, sinus medicines, allergy medicines, and OTC medications for other health issues include NSAIDs. Prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet also contain NSAIDs. Taking OTC pain medications on top of these other medications will quickly move your dosage into the danger zone for dangerous side-effects.

What Can You Do About It?

So, you have chronic joint pain and suffer daily from pain and joint stiffness. If you should not take NSAIDs every day, then what can you take to relieve your pain? The following supplements can reduce your pain with virtually no side effects and even reduce your total joint pain which may reduce or eliminate your need for OTC painkillers. 

White Willow Bark

White willow bark has been used for thousands of years by Romans, ancient China, and many other ancient peoples. The bark is particularly useful in relieving back pain, bone pain, joint pain, and headaches. Few people realize this, but the main ingredient in white willow bark is salicin. Salicin is the compound that was synthesized for use in aspirin.


The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is highly anti-inflammatory and beneficial for joint pain relief. Curcumin works to reduce pain by blocking “substance P” in the nervous system. Substance P is what signals the pain receptors in the brain. Curcumin is also highly effective at reducing total inflammation by blocking inflammation-causing proteins.

Cat’s Claw

Cat’s claw is a thorny vine native to South and Central America. Cat’s claw has many intriguing properties, such as an ability to stimulate the immune system and fight inflammation. Cat’s claw inhibits the production of prostaglandin, which causes pain and inflammation. This herb is not safe to take during pregnancy, for the same reasons that NSAIDs are unsafe during pregnancy.


Boswellia is a tree native to India that is fragrant and has healing properties. This tree is highly anti-inflammatory, but can also be used to treat other conditions. The herb contains boswellic acid, which improves blood flow to the joints. This prevents white blood cells from causing inflammation in the area.

Other Uses for Boswellia
  • Asthma reducer
  • Arthritis reliever
  • Intestinal healer


Ginger is surprisingly beneficial in treating pain- particularly in the joints. One study from Odense University in 1992 found that supplementing with ginger was able to reduce joint pain and overall pain in 75 percent of study participants.

Topical Essential Oils

For immediate relief, topical oils can provide benefit for joint pain as well as other kinds of pain. First, many essential oils contain ingredients that fight pain and stiffness. Second, the act of rubbing the oil into your skin can help reduce inflammation and improve circulation. Rub a few drops of the essential oil into your skin with a carrier oil like olive oil or almond oil.

Pain-Relieving Oils

Lavender: relieves pain

Clary sage: lowers blood pressure and reduces tension

Chamomile: relaxes muscles and reduces stiffness

You Don’t Need OTC Pain Medication

Although we have been taught to believe that OTC pain medication is entirely safe and without side effects, this is not the case. There are many potentially dangerous side effects to these medications just like any others.

The reason that medications are sold as OTC pills, is because the risk of developing serious side effects when taken as prescribed, is low. However, it is far easier to go beyond the recommended dose if you do not take care to watch out for hidden OTC painkillers in other medications.

Additionally, chronic consumption of any painkiller increases the risk of side effects and health risks. Few studies have examined the long-term risks of taking these medications daily for months or years at a time.

Luckily, you don’t have to be a slave to OTC pain medication even if you have severe joint pain. The above supplements and topical treatment methods can help control your pain without dangerous side effects all while reducing your total inflammation and joint pain. You may be amazed at how quickly you can ditch your daily pain meds when you implement these natural pain-relieving methods.





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