What Are NSAIDs?
If you’ve ever visited the pharmacy at a supermarket looking for a basic pain reliever, you’ve seen row upon row of NSAIDs. What are NSAIDs? Ibuprofen, Motrin, Aleve, Advil, Aspirin, and medications like these are all NSAIDs, which stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They are the over-the-counter (OTC) alternative to pain relievers that only a doctor can give, and can be bought without ever talking to a health care professional.
People pop OTC pain relieving pills to cure everything from a simple headache to serious pain from medical conditions. So, for athletes, taking an easy-to-buy pill that helps them stay on track with their workout schedule seems like a no-brainer.
Muscle soreness is par for the course for athletes, body builders, and anyone who sticks to a healthy workout schedule. In fact, those achy, tender feelings the day after a good workout even have a name – DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. For many people, this feeling is a sign that they’ve done their best to keep their body in great shape, and they may even chase this feeling on purpose.
For others, though, DOMS can seriously hinder their daily activities. It’s become common to grab a few ibuprofen pills the day after a workout, and no one has thought much of that practice…until now. In a recent study by Swedish scientists, NSAID pain killers like ibuprofen have been shown to have a negative impact on muscle gains.
To study the effect that NSAIDs have on muscle gains, the scientists separated participants into two groups. The first group took ibuprofen to combat the pain of muscle soreness after doing leg workouts. These included exercises like knee extensions that were done two to three times every week during the study. Any time this group felt muscle soreness, they were instructed to take an NSAID pain reliever.
The second group followed the same workout regimen, but only took a low dose of aspirin to combat any muscle soreness. The results? At the end of the study, group two experienced more than twice as much growth in the quad muscle as group one, despite all groups doing the same workouts for the same length of time.
We have looked at the question: What are NSAIDs? Now, we need to look at how NSAIDs work. The reason that NSAIDs appear to hinder those muscle gains is because of the way NSAIDs attack pain. Their primary method of pain control is to reduce inflammation because lower levels of inflammation take pressure off your nerves, which in turn reduce the pain you are feeling. Additionally, lowered inflammation is better for your overall health because it helps protect your heart and even reduces your chances of getting certain cancers.
That being said, the inflammatory process is actually vital to building bigger muscles. If you’re trying to get bigger, your muscles need the inflammatory part of the break down process in order to build back up. By hindering this process, NSAIDs can actually negatively impact your gains.
That was the short and simple version of why NSAIDs hinder muscle gains. Let’s dig a little deeper into the science. First, let’s start with how DOMS works.
When you work out, you are actually causing micro-tears to form in your muscle membrane. These micro-tears cause nutrients, like calcium, to escape from the muscle itself, which makes the muscle fiber even more weakened. At that point, damaged fibers begin to get stiff as proteins and nerves interact while the body tries to repair itself. This is what causes the pain of DOMS – that sore stiffness of the muscles. The swelling that is experienced is part of the body’s healing process. The tissues swell as a defense mechanism, to protect themselves while they put themselves back together. This specific defensive action is caused by an enzyme family known as cyclooxygenase, or COX. However, that swelling actually causes us even more pain, because pressure is put on those nearby nerves.
Now, here’s how NSAIDs work: In order to relieve pain, NSAIDs inhibit the activity of the COX enzymes, effectively paralyzing the muscle so that it cannot swell. This relieves the pressure on the nerves, so we feel less pain.
But here’s the problem: When COX enzymes are working to protect your muscles, they convert a natural acid in the muscle tissue into prostanoids, compounds that are important in all the swelling business going on in your muscles. These prostanoid compounds have another important role to play as well: they stimulate the process by which muscles start to synthesize protein for growth.
So, putting it all together, this means that when NSAIDs inhibit the COX enzymes from creating prostanoids, the muscles lose out on an important ingredient in the way they start to pack on growth.
Do NSAIDs Affect Muscle Strength?
One question that several experts had right away was: if prolonged usage of NSAIDs impacts muscle gains, does it also have an affect on strength? The study showed that with high doses of anti-inflammatory NSAIDs, muscle strength was, in fact, impaired slightly, compared to lower doses. It was not a profound difference, but it was a statistically significant difference. This is important news for body builders, professional athletes, and competitors who want to be at the absolute peak of their game at any given time and are considering all ways to gain competitive advantage.
Popping an ibuprofen here or there won’t counteract the hard work you’ve put into your muscle gains so far. However, the study did show strong evidence that long-term, consistent use of NSAIDs for pain relief can make it harder to get those gains.
The take away from this study is that you may need to find a new way to deal with the pain of DOMS if you want to avoid hindering your gains.
Other Studies and Proof
It may sound like a very big leap to make with just one study backing up the idea that NSAIDs are bad for gains, but there are actually other studies out there that show very similar results in animals.
For example, research that was performed on rodents over many years has shown that reduced muscle development is common in mice and rats that are treated with high doses of NSAIDs over a long period. In fact, long periods of NSAID use in rodents has led to a 50% decrease in muscle growth in one study. This study included both selective and non-selective NSAIDs (ibuprofen vs. aspirin, in other words).
Additionally, a study performed on humans back in 2002 showed that the synthesizing of proteins in human muscle was inhibited as much as 75% when the person was taking high doses of non-selective NSAIDs (aspirin). This seems to back up the most recent Swedish study’s findings, although the 2002 study was not replicable.
A Better Way: Dit Da Jow (topical pain relief) for DOMS
Since this study was released, many young athletes are searching for new ways to manage pain without sacrificing their gains or strength building goals. One effective method is through herbal topical pain relief liniment like those from Plum Dragon Herbs. Plum Dragon offers three different treatments for sports-related injuries and pain that have been shown to help reduce the effects of DOMS, without reducing the gains you experience.
The first is Ho Family Dit Da Jow, a powerful topical pain reliever with a mild anti-inflammatory agent that works to relieve the pain from over training soreness and tissue strains. This is our most effective pain reliever that even knocks out nerve pain with analgesic herbs in a balanced all natural herbal formula based on centuries of knowledge. This formula is best for muscle injuries, tendonitis, and significant pain conditions.
The second is Ancestors Advanced Conditioning Formula, which is designed to not only relieve pain, spasms, numbness, and tightness, but is also known for unblocking energy imbalances and reinvigorating the athletic body. This topical formula has the lowest dose of anti-inflammatory ingredients we offer, and is perfect for long-term use in regular training regimens to condition and strengthen your bones and ligaments to support your muscles, so you’ll feel less pain over time and prevent injury. This formula is best for older injuries to bones and ligaments that are slow to heal, arthritic conditions, and other cases of degeneration.
The third is Bruise Juice, which helps to relieve the pain caused by bruising and significant inflammation. While this topical liniment does contain very strong anti-inflammatory ingredients, it does not block the COX enzyme like the typical NSAID pain reliever. This topical formula is designed to work with the body and to enhance its natural healing abilities instead of circumventing them like NSAIDs. Use this product to relieve pain, reduce bruising, ease acute strains and sprains, relieve DOMS and reenergize the athletic body.
These three products are created with authentic Chinese formulas in a traditional manner, using only the highest quality Chinese herbs. They are 100% guaranteed to reduce pain and help you meet your fitness goals. So, what are NSAIDs? In our opinion, they are a questionable method of pain relief for athletes and others concerned with their negative effects on muscle and strength gains. When you are ready to make the shift from NSAIDs to a better method, Plum Dragon Herbs has the tools you need.