An over-the-counter drug you rely on may be taking years off your life

Most Americans can find the common pain reliever, ibuprofen, in their medicine cabinets. Like any drug, ibuprofen can have side effects, although most of them are fairly mild and/or rare. 

However, a recent study published in Scientific Reports found that ibuprofen’s negative effects on the liver may be more significant than originally thought, specifically in men.

In the study, from University of California Davis, mice were given ibuprofen each week equivalent to an adult human taking 400 mg of the drug per day. After capturing information on all the metabolic pathways in their liver cells, they noticed at least 34 metabolic pathways were altered in the male mice.

“We found that ibuprofen caused many more protein expression changes in the liver than we expected,” study co-author Professor Aldrin Gomes said.

Researchers explained that this can stress the cells in the liver, affecting organ health.

“The liver plays a key role in energy metabolism and is essential for whole-body homeostasis [the stabilization of bodily functions] via the regulation of glucose, lipid, and amino acid metabolism,” researchers said in their paper.

The study also found that ibuprofen had an almost opposite effect on the livers of the female mice. In their case, the drug increased the activity of cytochrome P450, an enzyme that contributes to the breakdown of drugs. 

“The [observations about] cytochrome P450 could mean that other drugs taken with ibuprofen could stay in the body for a longer duration in males, and this has never been shown before,” Gomes said.

What has been shown is that some drugs, such as the sleep medication zolpidem, are metabolized more slowly in women than in men

Gromes does advise that people take ibuprofen with caution, especially when taking other drugs. He noted that people shouldn’t take more than the recommended dosage and refrain if not absolutely necessary. 

“No drug is perfect, as all drugs have side effects. However, many commonly used drugs, such as ibuprofen, are being overused and should not be used for certain conditions, such as mild pain,” he said.