Heal Your Gut – and Autoimmune Disease – from Ibuprofen Damage

Millions of Americans take over the counter painkillers like Advil or Aleve without a second thought for any random ache or pain or cold symptom. What most don’t know is that those drugs (called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) are responsible for over 16,000 deaths a year, more than die from asthma or AIDS.

But there is another less recognized side effect (or should we say effect, because side effects are nothing more than unwanted effects of medication). These drugs damage your gut lining causing a condition responsible for a whole range of ailments from allergies to autoimmune disease. It’s called leaky gut.

Here’s one girl’s story – sad but with a happy ending:

Sarah is a 2-year-old girl who was brought to me as a patient by her mom. She came in for the treatment of severe pain and swelling in multiple joints including her ankles, elbows, and fingers.

Walking was painful, as was drawing, one of her favorite activities. Her mom and teachers also noticed that she’d changed from her playful, vibrant self, to a more anxious child.

Sarah was in perfect health until about a year before she came in, at which time she’d developed a bad cold – with fever that persisted on and off for about a week.

The pediatrician instructed Sarah’s mom to give her alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen around the clock to help with the discomfort of fever, and to bring the fever down. This is pretty standard fare in pediatric care.

What Doctors Know…And Don’t Know…About NSAIDs

Doctors are taught that ibuprofen, a drug in the family of medications called Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), can cause gastritis. In our medical training we learn that it can lead to stomach ulcers that, in extreme cases, can even result in upper gastrointestinal bleeding, the need for surgery, and blood transfusions.

We are generally taught that this is uncommon and only occurs with prolonged use in high doses.

However, what Sarah’s pediatrician didn’t know, and in fact, what most doctors don’t learn in their medical training, is that even shorter term use in regular doses can lead to gut damage and health consequences.

And not just in kids. In all of us.

In fact, many scientific studies conducted over the past two decades show a correlation between NSAID use and leaky gut syndrome (LGS).

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “All the conventional NSAIDs studied were equally associated with small intestinal inflammation apart from aspirin and nabumetone which seem to spare the small bowel.” Another study concluded, “NSAIDs are thus shown to disrupt intestinal integrity and long term treatment leads to inflammation of the small intestine.”

In this young patient’s case long term was just over a week!

Why Leaky Gut is Bad for You

Why is leaky gut bad? Because toxic bacteria and food proteins “leak” into your blood stream triggering inflammation that can lead to allergies, autoimmune disease, depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

Not only that, these immune problems may have ramifications beyond just the gut and problems like joint pain. Inflammation can affect the brain and nervous system, causing anxiety (as happened to this patient), depression, irritability, and mood swings.

And if you’ve got gluten sensitivity? Whoa, baby!

Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs might not be your best option because they can make it worse! These medications increase what is called “leaky gut,” or more technically, intestinal permeability. This allows food particles and fragments of the normal and unhealthy gut flora that inhabit our intestines to get across our gut lining, into our blood stream, and trigger food sensitivities, inflammatory, and even autoimmune reactions.

Here’s a list of common NSAID medications:

  • Advil / Motrin (ibuprofen)
  • Aspirin
  • Aleve (naproxen sodium)
  • Celebrex
  • Naprosyn (naproxen)
  • Lodine (etodolac)
  • Mobic
  • Nalfon (fenoprofen)
  • Daypro (oxaprozin)
  • Ansaid (flurbiprofen)
  • Cambia / Cataflam / Voltaren (diclofenac)
  • COX-2 Inhibitors

Functional Medicine: Treating the Root Cause

NSAIDs are generally not treating the root cause of the pain – they are just treating the symptoms. Functional medicine treats the underlying causes of health problems.

In Sarah’s case, we quickly went to work healing her gut to treat what had now become arthritis in her joints, anxiety, and constant stomach pain.

We removed all gluten and dairy from her diet, because even for people who weren’t previously sensitive, with leaky gut and inflammation, these are common triggers for many people.

We then added in a few simple supplements to begin to heal the gastritis – the inflammation in her stomach – and to heal her leaky gut. These included curcumin (an anti-inflammatory extract from turmeric), DGL, a form of licorice in a chewable tablet that helps to heal gastritis and leaky gut, zinc, and L-glutamine.

 A Happy, Pain Free Girl!

Just a couple of short months since coming to our clinic, Sarah is off of her antacid medications. She is joint pain free and her anxiety is resolved. She is once again playing comfortably and happily. Her stomachaches, which were previously severe and occurring multiple times daily are almost entirely gone. Her mom said she’s made a 180-degree turn-around and she can’t even believe the changes.

We can. We see these kinds of results every day in our practice specializing in functional medicine for anyone with chronic health problems.

That’s what happens when we understand and treat the root causes of disease!

Here Are Five Steps to Heal Your Leaky Gut

  1. Get to the root cause of your pain or inflammation using Functional medicine. Find a Functional medicine doctor near you or see one of us at The UltraWellness Center.
  2. Stop medications that cause a leaky gut including anti-inflammatories, aspirin, acid blockers, and antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.
  3. Try an elimination diet – no gluten or dairy for six weeks
  4. Take probiotics – 50-100 billion organisms a day of mixed probiotic strains
  5. Use nutrients and herbs to heal a leaky gut including digestive enzymes, zinc, glutamine, fish oil, quercitin, and curcumin.





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Hi Aviva, thank you so much for this information! What brand of probiotics do you recommend?

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    There are many good ones. We use the Klaire brand mostly in our practice.

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Hello, Aviva! I had the great pleasure of hearing you speak this past weekend at the Southeast Wise Women Herbal conference. The information you shared has changed my personal health trajectory. Thank you. Now, a statement then my question. I am not taking any supplements at this time and wish to begin the Elimination Diet within the next two weeks. Should I being supplements (the ones suggested during your talk on perimenopause/menopause) AFTER the Elimination or during? Thank you!

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    Sorry, *begin* supplements...

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    Hi Naomi! Thank you for your kind note. And so sorry to take so long to get to your comment. They come in quite copiously these days and I answer them all myself -- so just catching up in reverse order recent to past. It is totally ok to do it either way. But in some ways, doing the elimination diet first is really valuable because let's say symptoms clear up just from removing a food trigger -- then you'll discover that you didn't need the supplements! Also, if you take the supplements while on the slim diet, you won't know if your results are from the supplement or from the dietary changes...Hope that helps! :) ~Aviva

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Hello, I just started drinking lemon water every morning when i get up and its helping alot with digestive issues but was wondering if i should wait after drinking this lemon water to take dgl supplement has I usually take dgl before my meals and bedtime...... should i wait 20 minutes after drinking my lemon water before taking dgl ....... or should i just drink lemon water and not take the dgl before breakfast and take dgl before lunch and dinner and bedtime. Thanks very much for your help. Dgl is helping me alot also ...... I have no gallbladder. Want to make sure i am not cancelling out each others benefits.

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    Hi Linda, I don;t think there's a rule about this -- but I think your intuition, which is guiding you to ask this question, is spot on to wait after the lemon water! So glad it's helping! Warm wishes, Aviva

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Hi Aviva can you tell me how much L glutamine daily she took? did the typical 5000 mg / day work? leaky gut is horrible.. great article by the way

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    The usual dose is 2.5 to 5 grams, twice daily, depending on severity and how you tolerate the L-glutamine. It's also apparently most effective when taken between meals, but that's often inconvenient so many of my patients take it with a meal or in a shake.

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Kendra Sudano

Greetings and blessings, Aviva. I hope you're well. Do you still recommend glutamine for people with histamine/mast cell issues? Also are you familiar with the Cunningham panel from Moleculara Labs? Many months into autoimmune paleo diet, healing protocols for neuroimmune dysregulation, quality probiotic supplemenation (along with the rest you mentioned above) and my GI system is extremely upset, presenting a whole new symptom picture. And new symptoms of anxiety and depression as well. Feel like there's something we're missing at the "gut level". Trying to get to the roots. Thank you so much for all you do, and who you are!!! Kendra

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Kendra, Thank you so much for your note and your questions. This would really need to be addressed in an appointment as Aviva can do much better justice to health questions when she has a full picture of what specifically is going on for you. If you would like to consult with Aviva in her medical practice, Thrive Health, you can find out more here: http://avivaromm.wpengine.com/patients With warmest wishes, Megan- Aviva Romm’s Executive Assistant and Online Nutrition Expert

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Connie lee Jennings

This id most helpful information. I will sysrt my changes today. Thank you.

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Can dgl be used during breastfeeding? I'm suffering from chronic gastritis for three years. I'm currently 27 weeks pregnant with my third baby. I need to be able to eat for the baby!!!!

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    Yes - it can be used during BF'ing for sure.

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Hello, I never knew that ibuprofen could cause leaky gut! This is so frustrating as I've been giving my daughter (2 years old) a little ibuprofen here and there for fever when sick or for teething pain. Is there anything that is safe and healthy to give a toddler for a fever or for teething pain? Thank you very much.

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Sara, Thank you for your note! Please see (or listen) Avivas article on fevers in children! It's truly wonderful and chalked full of really useful information. Warm wishes, Megan- Aviva Romm’s Executive Assistant and Online Nutrition Expert

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Dear Dr Aviva, I am a simple mum from UK with a 5 yeald old with a constand constipation problem. I have tried a lot of remedies, unfortunatelly movicol, then I realise it was not going to help, so I tryed Senna, Magnezium is the last, and it not working anymore. The problem is I went to the GP so many times, and the health visitor is saying we are.doing the right thing and the healthy food, and fibers. I suspect she might be gluten intolerant or sensitive, but they say it can not.be. her hight is 115 cm and only 17.8 kg. She did not take on weight since sempember 2016 when she started school. She also cries a lot, she has changed so.much, she never use to be like this. She dislikes vegetables, but she will eat them.in caserole. I am worried that she may have gluten sensitivity. Please if posible at all could you advice me what supliment I should be giving her if we start a 6 week gluten free? I am desperate as I don't think we have anyone as good as you Dr Aviva. I am also very aware that Maria had a few ilnesses recently and she has been given ibuprofen, but her constipation started from 2 months old when she had enterocolities and the doctors said she is ok, so ever since then we strugle with vomit, gaging, and ever doctor told me thet she is fussy, or that she is playing up. I know my child and I am worried for her, i was hoping she will grouw out of it. But reading your articles I am sure she will.not, and her poor weight gain, could.mean leaky gut? Please advice me I am not sure what to do. Uk Doctors are a little bit less woried.

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    Aviva Romm

    Hi Ramona, 50% of children's constipation will clear from removing dairy completely. Gluten is a significant contributor to constipation and celiac to low growth. It's a serious problem and sound like she might need a proper diagnosis. But I'd definitely try gluten free because symptoms clearing up on a strictly GF diet is also a gold standard of diagnosis. My course on kids and allergies might be most helpful for you right now - it will walk you though an elimination diet. https://www.healthiestkids.com/the-allergy-epidemic/ Also look into the work of pediatric gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano - he is a pediatric celiac/gluten intolerance expert.