Ibuprofen found to block muscle gains after exercise

A study published in Acta Physiologica warns that long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may inhibit muscle growth in people who engage in weight training.

As part of the study, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden examined healthy men and women aged 18 to 35 who were randomly assigned to two groups: one group taking 1,200 mg ibuprofen, while the other taking a relatively lower dosage of 75 mg acetylsalicylic acid.

The participants took these every day for eight weeks. The respondents also underwent supervised weight-training exercises for the thigh muscles two to three times a week during the same period.

The researchers then examined the participants’ muscle growth, muscle strength, and anti-inflammatory markers in the muscles. The experts observed that muscle volume was twice as large in participants who received low-dose NSAIDs than those who took high-dose ibuprofen.

Likewise, participants who were on high-dose ibuprofen treatment also exhibited impaired muscle strength. Biopsy results also revealed that classical markers for inflammation were inhibited in those who took ibuprofen.

“The results are extremely interesting since the use of anti-inflammatory drugs is so globally widespread, not least amongst elite athletes and recreationally active individuals. We chose to look at the effect of ibuprofen as it is the most well-studied anti-inflammatory drug on the market, but we believe that high doses of all types of OTC NSAIDs have similar effects,” lead researcher Tommy Lundberg told Science Daily online.

“This suggests that muscular inflammation processes when combined with weight training are beneficial to the long-term development of new muscle mass, at least in the young. Our results suggest that young people who do weight training to increase their muscle mass should avoid regular high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs,” Lundberg added.

Previous studies also find link between NSAIDs, muscle loss

The recent findings coincide with previous studies demonstrating a correlation between painkiller use and muscle loss. According to previous studies, the drugs have long been used by athletes to mitigate exercise-related pain before its onset.

“Athletes often self-administer these medications to prevent pain and inflammation before it occurs. However, scientific evidence for this approach is currently lacking, and athletes should be aware of the potential risks in using NSAIDs as a prophylactic agent. These agents are not benign and can produce significant side effects, including gastrointestinal and cardiovascular conditions as well as musculoskeletal and renal side effects,” a study published in The Physician and Sports Medicine revealed.

Painkillers were also directly associated with impaired protein synthesis in physically active individuals in another study.

As part of the study, participants were given either a placebo pill or maximum doses of over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen following 10 to 14 sets of eccentric knee extensors.

The results showed that participants who took the painkillers exhibited suppressed protein synthesis. The findings support earlier studies that demonstrate the drugs’ negative effects on protein metabolism in skeletal muscles.

Painkillers such as ibuprofen are classified as cyclooxygenase inhibitors. According to scientists, cyclooxygenase activity plays an important role in muscular hypertrophy. Ibuprofen’s capacity to mitigate this activity means that the drug may also simultaneously inhibit muscular hypertrophy, the researchers noted.

Health experts have previously discouraged the use of OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen in the treatment of completed fractures, stress fractures at higher risk of nonunion, or in chronic muscle injuries. On the other hand, the experts recommend the drugs to alleviate acute ligament strains, muscle strains, tendinitis, and eccentric muscle injury. However, they maintain that painkiller use should be exercised with caution and that treatment duration should be kept as short as possible.

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