The Problem with NSAIDs

I’d like to tell you how anti-inflammatory drugs block normal prostaglandin function and why prostaglandin function is important. Anti-inflammatory drugs (things like aspirin and ibuprofen) are used as pain relievers and fever reducers. Prostaglandins are wonderful hormone-like substances. Our body cannot function without them and they occur all throughout the body. They are made in our cell membranes and built from essential fats that we eat.

Prostaglandins are in charge of the body's inflammatory function. Our bodies are always working to maintain homeostasis, or balance. Prostaglandins help maintain the balance of inflammation. They increase and decrease inflammation as needed.

Inflammation causes us to feel pain, so you may ask why we want prostaglandins that cause inflammation. It’s because inflammation is an important part of the healing process. Here are a couple of examples. When you twist your ankle, it hurts and swells. The hurt keeps you from running on it and complicating the injury. The swelling immobilizes it further so that it has time to heal. Another example is a fever, which is an inflammatory response throughout the body - the heat of fever. A fever makes us feel like resting. It also raises temperature to create a more hostile environment for the pathogens our immune system is fighting. Besides making us rest, inflammation also marshals the cellular repair forces used by our rebuilding cells and immune system. Inflammation is like a Facebook post, calling on all your friends, your tribe, to come help you when you need help the most.

After your friends have arrived and helped you with the painful issue, or after the body’s repair forces have completed the repair, other prostaglandins arrive to deflame and turn off the distress signal.

So inflammation is needed for healing, then other prostaglandins are made to deflame after we are healed. When we feel pain, we reach for painkillers to stop the unpleasant sensation. Painkillers work by suppressing the inflammatory response. We don’t feel pain, but the call for help doesn’t go out. NSAIDs block the production of all prostaglandins so that the body’s natural inflammation and de-inflammation maintenance system is turned off, slowing healing and recovery.