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Physicians write nearly 100 million prescriptions for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — like Celebrex — annually in the United States. Further, billions of nonprescription NSAIDs — such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and some multi-symptom cold products — are purchased over the counter each year for temporary relief of a variety of aches and pains from headaches to muscle aches to menstrual cramps.

While most integrative experts agree that NSAIDs are relatively fine for alleviating isolated, short-term pain, when it comes to long-lasting pain or chronic disease, such as arthritis, a more holistic approach is warranted. Many caregivers recommend extreme caution in taking them, especially for longer than a week because NSAIDs can also increase the risk for illness in many different parts of the body, and they can interfere with the body’s natural healing process.

Recently the FDA announced it’s strengthening the existing warning in prescription drug labels and over-the-counter (OTC) Drug Facts labels to indicate that NSAIDs can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, either of which can lead to death. The FDA notes that serious side effects can occur as early as the first few weeks of using an NSAID, and the risk may rise the longer an NSAID is used. While it’s considered an NSAID, the revised warning does not apply to aspirin.

Individuals with cardiovascular disease, particularly those who recently had a heart attack or cardiac bypass surgery, are the most vulnerable population of an increased risk for cardiovascular adverse events associated with NSAID use, according to studies.

But the risk is also present in people without cardiovascular disease. “Everyone may be at risk — even people without an underlying risk for cardiovascular disease,” says Judy Racoosin, MD, MPH, deputy director of FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Addiction Products.

The FDA further advises consumers to avoid taking multiple remedies for pain relief with the same active ingredient — and to carefully read the drug facts labels on products before use.

If you’re looking to reduce your use of NSAIDs, here are some commonly recommended botanicals that address pain and inflammation. Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for an individualized plan. For further information on the health impacts of NSAIDs use, read “Your Body on Ibuprofen.”

  • Turmeric
  • Boswellia
  • Ginger
  • Bromelain
  • Capsaicin
  • Arnica montana

Nutrition also plays a vital role in alleviating inflammation and managing joint pain.

Here are some top nutrients to eat:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Sulfur
  • Calcium and vitamin D
  • Anthocyanin
  • Fiber

And those to avoid:

  • Refined sugars
  • Simple carbohydrates
  • Unhealthy fats
  • Food sensitivity triggers

For more information on eating strategically to ease pain, read “Feed Your Joints.”

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