Most people take painkillers once in a while, for the occasional headache or cramp or pain, thinking that it’s no big deal. A harmless habit that helps once in a while.

But when the FDA, a notoriously slow-to-react agency, decides that painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen need stricter labels, we should all probably take note. If even the FDA is concerned, you definitely should be.

What the new warning says and means for your health

Essentially the FDA has made the warning stronger. Instead of just saying that over-the-counter painkillers “might” increase your risk of heart attack or stroke, they are now saying they definitely do (the overwhelming research kind of forced them to).

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In fact, they can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke “as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug).” Using the drugs for a longer period of time and taking a higher dose can increase this risk dramatically.

You should be even more concerned if you already have risk factors for heart disease and stroke. People with high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and a family history of the disease, should all avoid NSAIDs. We should all avoid taking them at high doses for long periods of time.

What to do instead

The lesson here is that you should take the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time.

But an even better idea is to avoid the use of painkillers altogether. How exactly you should do that will depend on what you take them for.

If you typically take ibuprofen when you get a headache, you should try to figure out what’s causing them. You can learn about some common food triggers, like wheat and dairy, here and a diet you can try to eliminate them. Or you can learn about the role serotonin plays in relieving migraines here.

If back pain is your main issue, you should first try some stretching. I’ve found this set of seven stretches to be very effective at relieving my pain, especially the ones while lying with my back on the floor.

If your pain is more general, or due to arthritis, you can also check out this list of herbs that help with inflammation and swelling, or this article on relieving arthritis pain.


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We believe in using natural ingredients to be as healthy as possible. We believe dieting will never work as well as a lifestyle of healthy habits will. We believe you can treat pain and disease without relying on addictive drugs. We believe being happy is a big part of a healthy life.