Long term use of over the counter pain medication can lead to chronic kidney disease

Published: Aug. 8, 2016 at 12:55 PM EDT
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“I came from a healthy human being to someone with failing kidneys, I’m in stage IV,” said Barry Davis.

Barry Davis has only about 25 percent of his kidney function left. The cause? Over the counter pain meds like Advil and Aleve. They belong to a class known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS. Davis, once an avid runner, says he took up to nine pills a day for three decades. He says he told his doctors.

“And I never had any prohibition. No one said don't do that.”

Doctors may not have warned Davis, but the National Kidney Foundation advises that while NSAIDS are “usually safe for occasional use” they can lead to chronic kidney disease.

“These kinds of anti-inflammatories are meant to be taken in the short term to help with an acute pain or inflammation,” said Charles Srour, DC, Pro Health Care.

Davis now sees chiropractor, Charles Srour, who says there are safer alternatives for treating pain long term. He recommends the herb turmeric, specifically curcumin, fish oil and complexes like infladox, which combine supplements.

“In some cases, the effect they get is even stronger than what they get with pharmaceuticals,” said Dr. Srour.

Davis says he assumed buying medicine over the counter meant it was safe. He urges others not to make the same mistake.

“I’d think twice for sure.”

A move that could preserve your health.

Doctor Srour also says aspirin is an NSAID, but there is far less documentation that it causes kidney failure in comparison to ibuprofen.


BACKGROUND: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can be prescribed by your doctor or purchased over-the-counter, or OTC. They are the most common medications prescribed for arthritis, but most people are familiar with the OTC NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and lower fevers. They also prevent blood clots. Some NSAIDs, most commonly aspirin, could protect against heart disease, but it can also cause you to bruise more easily. Side effects include nausea, upset stomach, higher risk for developing an ulcer, and interference with kidney function. You are at a higher risk from NSAIDs if you are pregnant, over the age of 65 or are taking other medications. You are also at higher risk if you have high blood pressure, asthma, a history of kidney or liver disease, or have had ulcers in the past. The side effects and risks also increase the longer you take the NSAID. (Source:

HOW NSAIDS WORK: NSAIDs prevent the enzyme known as cyclooxygenase, or COX, from doing its job. COX has two forms, COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 guards the stomach lining from harsh acids and digestive chemicals and helps preserve kidney function, while COX-2 is produced when joints are injured or swollen. Traditional NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and nabumetone, block the actions of both forms of COX. This is why upset stomachs and bleeding can occur, but also why pain and inflammation will subside. One special category of NSAIDs is COX-2 inhibitors. These block only the actions of COX-2 enzymes, which stimulate inflammation. They generally don’t cause upset stomachs or bleeding because they don’t block COX-1. COX-2 inhibitors include celecoxib, rofecoxib and valdecoxib. (Source:

ALTERNATIVES TO PILLS: The National Center for Biotechnology Information says, “Although nonsteroidal medications can be effective, herbs and dietary supplements may offer a safer, and often an effective, alternative treatment for pain relief, especially for long-term use.” They recommend the following list:

* Omega-3 FEAs, or fish oil

* White willow bark

* Curcumin (turmeric)

* Green tea

* Pycnogenol, or maritime pine bark

* Boswellia serrata resin

* Resveratrol

* Uncaria tomentosa

* Capsaicin, found in chili pepper