Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Case against Vitamin I

Outside of my addiction to strong coffee and being a moderate consumer of alcohol, I'm not a big user of drugs of any kind. My family physician would probably tell you (if you asked and if it were legal for her to answer, which it's not) that I'm averse to them. She will give me prescriptions and I ask for homeopathic alternatives, which she, to her great credit, is happy to recommend.

So it is with over-the-counter remedies for me also. I don't like using them unless I really need them. It's my (gut-level and totally unconfirmed) theory that this practice makes the drugs more effective for me when I need them. (Here's a link to learn more about the image at right.)

I first came across the term "Vitamin I" (referring to ibuprofen, aka Advil or Motrin) in one of Selene Yeager's columns in Bicycling magazine. It seemed humorous to me at the time, and it was understandable that such an effective drug might be seen to be effective as a general prophylactic (i.e. preventative) against aches, pains, and inflammation.

My first inkling that this might not be the case was a cautionary page that I came across at the website of a company called JointHealing, from whom I bought a compression knee brace to ease the chondromalacia that I experience in my right knee. (Highly recommended supplier if you're in the market for a joint brace.) They had an article about the use of glucosamine sulfate for rebuilding cartilage that suggested that the overuse of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, of which ibuprofen is one) might actually negatively impact growth of new cartilage. The use of "vitamin I" and similar drugs was described as possibly making the problem you are trying to fix worse. Red flag number one.

Red flag number two came in the form of an article this week in one of the New York Times blogs. This was much more alarming. I won't reiterate the entire piece here (bad etiquette, and besides, that's why I gave the link), but summarized, a highly-regarded physician from UNC's Human Performance Laboratory studied runners in an ultra-distance (100 mile) race before and after the event. Here are some of the findings:
  • A significant majority of the participants were using ibuprofen before and during the race;
  • There was no significant difference between users and non-users of NSAIDs in their pain levels;
  • NSAIDs slow the healing of injured muscles, tendons, ligament, and bones;
  • Perhaps most disturbing, NSAIDs may actually increase one's chance of injury by inhibiting the natural response of the body to form stronger bones and tendons as a result of exercise (note the echo here of the caveat given in the JointHealing article);
So, if you're taking ibuprofen as a preventative as (apparently) many do, it would seem that the current prevailing research suggest that you should cut that sh*t out!

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