Your muscles ache. You reach for an anti-inflammatory, but then you hesitate.
It’s been known for years that some of these drugs — even ones as common as ibuprofen — can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. But why is that?
Aldrin Gomes at the University of California, Davis, wanted to know, too. He’s a professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, and his lab studies the side effects of some commonly used drugs on the heart.
The class of pain relievers that endanger the heart are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration warned that non-aspirin NSAIDS increased the risk of heart attack or stroke and strengthened that warning in 2015.
“We went in there thinking there must be something it’s doing, some explanation,” Gomes said.
Over the course of two years, he and other UC Davis scientists discovered that the drugs hinder the body’s production of energy, stress the heart and lead to toxic buildup — and eventually the death of cardiac cells.
A fuller description of his study details the mechanism. It offers suggestions for an alternative treatment for moderate pains and, if you are taking an NSAID, something you can ingest beforehand that may help prevent the death of heart cells.
In an interview since the study was published, Gomes said that NSAIDS seem to be beneficial in combating cancer. He said they kill cancer cells in a way similar to how they damage heart cells.