Painkillers linked to serious health risks in new study

Photo (c) Jose Jonathan Heres - Getty Images

These drugs may increase the risk of consumers developing cancer and heart disease

A new study conducted by researchers from Yale University explored some of the health risks associated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While these painkillers have anti-inflammatory properties, some of them may also make health concerns like cancer or heart disease more common. 

This study showed that a specific group of NSAIDs activate a protein – nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) – that works to reduce inflammation. While the team can’t say with certainty that NRF2 is the link behind these drugs and adverse health outcomes, the findings from this study indicate that this might be the case. 

“It’s interesting and exciting that NSAIDs have a different mode of action than what was previously known,” said researcher Anna Eisenstein. “And because people use NSAIDs so frequently, it’s important we know what they’re doing in the body.” 

Understanding the health risks associated with NSAIDs

The researchers conducted their study on mice to better understand how NSAIDs work in the body and can cause long-term health risks. Previous studies have shown that these drugs work by hindering the production of certain enzymes; however, this process doesn’t explain some of the health risks associated with these drugs, including a higher risk of heart disease. 

The team learned that certain types of NSAIDs like ibuprofen and indomethacin activate the NRF2 protein and produce anti-inflammatory properties throughout the body. The NRF2 protein is incredibly powerful and can affect several different bodily processes, such as aging, immune response, longevity, and metabolism. 

“That NRF2 does so much suggests that NSAIDs might have other effects, whether beneficial or adverse, that we haven’t yet looked for,” Eisenstein said. 

As more studies examine how these painkillers can be used to treat inflammatory conditions like asthma or Alzheimer’s disease, doctors may give their patients guidance on which NSAIDs to take for different ailments. 

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