The Liquid You Should Take Your Ibuprofen With (And It's Not Water)

Falling under the category of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ibuprofen is a medication that serves a variety of purposes. This includes the treatment of low-level muscle pain, fever, menstrual cramps, inflammation, and more. It is also often used by those diagnosed with certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or gout, according to an article published in StatPearls. For the occasional ibuprofen user, however, you may only reach for that bottle of Advil or Motrin every once in a while to relieve the discomfort of seasonal cold symptoms like headache or a sore throat. 

As an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, ibuprofen is usually taken orally in the form of capsules, tablets, liquid gels, or chewables. While there's no prescription required, it's important to follow labeling instructions when it comes to dosage, timing, and potential side effects. For individuals at least 12 years of age, taking 200 to 400 milligrams (mg) approximately every four to six hours is recommended (via Medical News Today). Dosage amounts for younger children will be different. 

Users are suggested to take ibuprofen orally with food or liquid. While sipping on water can make swallowing pills easier, that's not the main reason that drinking liquid is recommended. Rather, swapping out that glass of water for a glass of milk can help mitigate certain uncomfortable side effects.

Drinking milk with ibuprofen may reduce stomach discomfort

While ibuprofen offers many benefits when it comes to pain relief, it can simultaneously have negative effects on our stomach. NSAIDs aggravate our stomach lining by hindering the production of certain enzymes critical to its protection (via Creaky Joints). While blocking these enzymes helps minimize pain and inflammation, it can also lead to a mild stomach ache.

In severe cases, NSAID use can result in stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, or the development of holes in the stomach lining. Older adults who take ibuprofen on an ongoing basis may be more susceptible to such gastrointestinal issues, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine

However, ingesting a cup of milk with the medication can help minimize abdominal discomfort and may protect against more severe side effects. Research findings from a 2011 animal study published in the Chinese Journal of Internal Medicine (Zhonghua Nei Ke Za Zhi) revealed a connection between rats who were fed cow colostrum (a cow's first milking after giving birth) and increased protection against NSAID-related intestinal damage as well as greater preservation of the small intestine lining compared to other rodent groups in the study.

It may also decrease throat or mouth irritation

Taking ibuprofen with milk instead of water may not only help relieve an upset stomach, but it may also help reduce unpleasant sensations in the throat or mouth that sometimes come along with it. This can be particularly helpful in cases where children may be resistant to taking the medication. 

Researchers from a 2013 study published in Chemosensory Perception mixed ibuprofen sodium into three different types of commercially available milk products: skim milk, whole milk, and half-and-half milk. Participants were asked to drink a 10-milliliter sample by first letting the solution linger in the back of the throat before swallowing twice. In looking at participant-reported rankings of "overall irritation," the half-and-half milk mixture yielded a roughly 20% reduction in irritation compared to the skim-milk mixture. The researchers concluded that the higher fat content found in half-and-half milk may play a role in this link.

Although ibuprofen can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC), that doesn't mean it's risk-free. Frequent use can potentially cause diarrhea, heart attack, kidney damage, stroke, and more, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Therefore, consult with your physician before using ibuprofen on a regular basis.