For the longest time, we have relied on over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication from the pharmacy, such as NSAIDs, to help manage our chronic joint pain. But is the constant daily use of NSAIDs really helping to improve our health or hurting us?
Can NSAIDs actually address the root cause of our joint pain long enough to support the repair and rebuilding, and what about their side effects?
We will explore a better option.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been the mainstay for most people who are trying to manage joint and mobility pain as they age. It all starts for some, early in their 40s, and for most of us, we will certainly have experienced it during our 50s. It’s that periodic joint pain, which is tender, painful, and limits our mobility but doesn’t seem to result from an obvious injury.
We then reach for our favorite brand of pain relief, NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen, and start consuming them like their vitamin pills, without much thought to their side effects.
When I was younger, I trained as an endurance triathlete, competing in full-distance Ironman triathlons and marathons. I had a good friend in his late 30s, whom I would train with whenever we were in the same town. Like me, he loved endurance sports, but he specialized in multisport events, which could run over several days and generally involved mountain running with numerous river crossings. During one such event, he rolled an ankle at the start of a mountain run stage as he slipped and fell at the beginning of a river crossing. Not to worry, he would “tough it out” for the rest of the race because he had his bottle of NSAIDs in his running pack for just this occasion. With a swig of water, he downed a good number of tablets, which he assured himself, would mean a rapid suppression of inflammation in his ankle. He kept running, and a couple of hours later, he took more pills for good measure; after all, he needed to eliminate the swelling completely, as he still had a long way to run that day.
Several hours later, my friend was found by other athletes. He was fighting for his life because his kidneys started shutting down. He was immediately air-lifted and evacuated in a medical helicopter for emergency renal surgery at a major hospital, 90kms away.
When he arrived, the first objective was simply to save his life, and if successful, the second was to try to save his kidneys. As luck would have it, the surgeon on call was a good friend of his and also well-known to me. This surgeon was considered the best renal transplant surgeon in the country, and if anyone could help him, this guy could; and a few hours later, he did.
My friend survived his ordeal with his life, and his kidneys were saved, but it was a close call, and it was to be his last multisport event he would ever run.
Sure, he hadn’t followed the exact directions on the label because he had consumed two doses of 800mg ibuprofen over two hours. It was definitely a high dose, but not typically life-threatening, at least under normal circumstances.
For many people, the number of NSAID tablets that he consumed would not have resulted in renal failure, but unlike most people, my friend was dehydrated from racing, and it was this combination of a high dose NSAID and dehydration that caused the kidneys to shut down and for him to experience acute severe renal failure.
However, athletes are not the only ones that run this risk. Farmers, construction workers, builders, or anyone who has a physically demanding outdoor job that requires long hours of exposure during the summer months and who also self-medicate for joint and muscle pain, are also at potential risk of kidney damage from NSAID use.
After all, how many of us, during summer, give a second thought to our fluid intake before taking just one more NSAID tablet for joint pain?
As we get older, our joint pain becomes more frequent, and we shrug it off as a sign of age. Unfortunately for us, heart disease too also becomes more frequent as we age, and NSAIDs for joint pain and heart disease are two things that don’t mix.
The Mayo Clinic advises that those who have had any form of cardiac event or are at known risk for a cardiac event should NOT regularly consume NSAID tablets like ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, or aspirin (NB low-dose aspirin prescribed for the heart is not usually considered to be an NSAID), because, in addition to suppressing the inflammatory response, NSAIDs can also suppress the body’s natural cardio-protective pathways as well, simply put, NSAIDs increase your risk of a significant cardiac event if you already have underlying heart disease.
Is There A Better Best Alternatives to NSAIDs for Managing Arthritis Pain?
New Zealand green-lipped mussel oil has been extensively tested dating back to 1975 for its anti-inflammatory effect from its long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, including the two well-known omega-3s oils, EPA and DHA. But New Zealand green-lipped mussel oil is much more than just these two omega-3s oils, EPA and DHA; it has the additional combination of other omega-3s uniquely found in green-lipped mussel oil and that work synergistically to help suppress inflammation in the body without the side effects of NSAIDs.
While green-lipped mussel oil doesn’t have the immediate pain-reducing effects of common NSAIDs, it will significantly reduce pain when taken consistently over days. Several clinical studies report that green-lipped mussel oil is just as effective as NSAIDs at managing the inflammatory response over time.
Rebuilding And Repairing The Joint
And recently, it has been shown that green-lipped mussel oil has another, potentially more significant impact on joint health. When taken regularly, it can help rebuild the cartilage and support the regeneration of the joint itself; something NSAIDs can’t do.
In 2021, researchers studied the effect of green-lipped mussel oil on bone health and joints believing that green-lipped mussel oil might play an essential role in helping to reduce or even halt the breakdown of bone and joint cartilage that is common with many forms of age-related arthritis and is closely associated with the progression joint diseases such as osteoarthritis.
These researchers set out to see if they could slow down the production of a particular type of bone cell called an osteoclast, which is responsible for breaking down and starting the recycling process of bone within the body. The body naturally breaks down old bone so that new bone cells, called osteoblasts, can rebuild or remodel new bone and help to maintain bone strength and improve bone mineral density.
As we age, however, our body tends to produce disproportionately more destructive osteoclasts and far fewer new bone osteoblasts, which leads to an imbalance and a greater degree of bone breakdown. This imbalance results in a progressive loss of bone mineral density and pronounced deterioration in cartilage health within joints.
After they completed this study, the research team concluded that their results for very positive for positive green-lipped mussel oil. What this means is that their research demonstrated that green-lipped mussel oil could significantly reduce osteoclasts' growth, thereby slowing the breakdown and resorption of bone and effectively preserving one’s bone structure intact.
While more human clinical studies are expected to build on these findings, this research explains the effectiveness already experienced by many consumers when taking green-lipped mussel oil to improve joint comfort and promote mobility and flexibility. This research shows that not only does suppressing osteoclasts potentially reduce the future risk of bone diseases like osteoporosis, but it dramatically improves cartilage health which is often at the center of many joint and arthritis conditions.
The major advantage for those of us over 40 years old who are suffering from old sports injuries or don’t want the typical risk of side effects that come from NSAIDs, such as kidney disease, stomach, and gastric irritation, or the risk of heart complications due to underlying heart disease. Green-lipped mussel oil might well be the answer.