When You Take Ibuprofen Every Day, This Is What Happens To Your Gut

Ibuprofen comes with side effects. You probably already know that. In fact, it's even printed on the bottle containing this popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). 

Some of the more common gut-related concerns you've probably heard about that happen when you take ibuprofen daily are stomach pain, stomach acid, burping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, indigestion, gas, nausea, and vomiting. In addition to these, the painkiller and fever-reliever can also cause itchy skin, noisy breathing, shortness of breath, and weight gain. 

The gut-related symptoms are important for one main reason — your gut health can dictate your overall health. It's closely related to your immune system, mental health and mood, sleep, digestion, and risk for health conditions like autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), heart disease, and even cancer. Turns out, while you may think you're innocently popping an Advil (one brand of ibuprofen) to relieve muscle pain or a fever, you're exposing your gut to a host of problems like leaky gut (also known as intestinal permeability), upper-gastrointestinal bleeding, stomach ulcers, and a gut microbiome imbalance that leaves you vulnerable to disease. 

Ibuprofen compromises the gut lining

NSAIDs like ibuprofen work by blocking the action of enzymes — cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 and -2 to be specific — that are responsible for producing the fatty acids called prostaglandins in your system. In addition to triggering inflammation and fever, prostaglandins also help protect your gut lining by aiding the release of gut-protective mucus, according to functional medicine physician Dr. Amy Myers. According to a 2015 study published in eLife, prostaglandins also promote blood clotting, and when these functions of this fatty acid are inhibited, you are leaving your gut exposed to increased permeability, ulcers, bleeding, and perforation in the intestinal tract. 

"When there's not enough mucus in your digestive tract, the acid erodes the surface of your stomach or small intestine, causing an ulcer. This open sore can bleed," explained Dr. Myers. A compromised gut lining also means a leaky gut.

A leaky gut (harm-causing bacteria leaking into your bloodstream) brought on by long-term (and short-term) ibuprofen use can lead to a myriad of other medical concerns like allergies, autoimmune diseases, compromised immune system, depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Something else also happens with regular NSAID use and this has to do with your gut microbiome composition. 

Ibuprofen use also changes the gut microbome

Among the things you might not know about ibuprofen is how the NSAID can change the composition and function of your gut microbiome. 

Per a 2019 study published in the Journal of Immunology Research, NSAIDs could reduce a beneficial strain of gut bacteria, known as Lactobacillus, which can leave you at risk of autoimmune diseases. A similar conclusion was reached in a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology. In fact, the gut microbiome composition changes according to the type of NSAID you consume, as reported by a 2016 study published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

Functional medicine experts are of the opinion that ibuprofen use only treats the symptoms of your ailments, and taking a more holistic approach that involves thinking about your gut and overall health might be a better approach than turning to this popular NSAID. That being said, if you're already experiencing gut-related symptoms which you can connect to ibuprofen use, you may want to discuss this with your doctor. Even a leaky gut can be healed provided you work with your healthcare provider on the next steps. Getting to the root of your pain and inflammation, eliminating problematic medicines like ibuprofen, consuming probiotics, and reintroducing proper nutrition by way of digestive enzymes, omega-3s, curcumin, and zinc are some of the recommendations by functional medicine physicians. However, this will also depend on why you're taking ibuprofen and how it's impacted your gut specifically. 

If you found this article interesting, perhaps you'd like to read about what happens to your gut when you stop taking antidepressants.