Study reveals a connection between the use of NSAIDs and severe C. difficile superbug infections

Antibiotics are known to disrupt the microbial balance in the gut, increasing the risk of getting infected by bacteria such as Clostridium difficile. However, a new study found that even common pain relievers may promote infections caused by C. difficile. C. difficile causes the most common and most dangerous hospital-born infections in the U.S. and around the world.

For the study, researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine observed two groups of antibiotic-treated mice for a week after infection with C. difficile. They treated one group with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) called indomethacin before infection, while the other group did not receive any treatment. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin are drugs commonly used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

The results showed that only 20 percent of the mice treated with NSAID survived until the end of the study period while nearly 80 percent of the mice that were not exposed to NSAID lived. The researchers also observed that even a brief exposure to NSAID before C. difficile infection increased the severity of infection and shortened the mice’s survival.

When the researchers carried out further cellular and genetic analyses, they found that NSAID exposure changed the gut microbiota of mice and reduced the production of prostaglandins which are hormone-like substances that play an important role in gut health. These findings aligned with those of earlier studies suggesting that NSAIDs can cause or worsen an inflammatory disease called colitis by suppressing the body’s production of prostaglandins.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that NSAID worsened C. difficile infections in mice by altering the gut microbiota, impairing epithelial cells – the main defense system in the intestine – and disrupting the normal immune response. These findings, which were published in the journal mBio, shed new light on how NSAIDs affect the severity of C. difficile infection.

David Aronoff, leader of the study and a microbiologist and infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said, “Ultimately, these new results might guide how we treat people with C. diff, particularly with pain management. Right now, it’s too early for our results to guide clinical care, but they should be a stimulus for future studies.”

Aronoff also suggested that the study’s findings might extend to other common pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin because they all have almost the same biological mechanism.

NSAIDs can also increase your risk of heart attack or stroke

In addition to worsening C. difficile infections, NSAIDs can increase the risk of harmful cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke even in people without cardiovascular disease. The risk tends to increase with higher doses and longer and more frequent use. On the other hand, people who already have cardiovascular disease or have a high risk may have a greater chance of experiencing heart attack or stroke if they use NSAIDs.

Natural alternatives to NSAIDs

The next time you experience pain, use natural pain relievers such as:

  • Ginger – Ginger can be used to treat pain caused by inflammation because it contains compounds called gingerols, which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. This herb inhibits COX-1 and COX-2, two enzymes that produce prostaglandins. Prostaglandins promote inflammation.
  • Turmeric – Turmeric is a widely used culinary and medicinal herb. It is most commonly used to treat inflammatory disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and osteoarthritis. Its anti-inflammatory effect can be attributed to a compound called curcumin, which fights inflammation by suppressing the production of the inflammatory compounds COX-2 and 5-LOX. The herb is also a blood thinner and helps enhance blood flow and prevent blood clots. (Related: Five natural pain-relieving alternatives to aspirin and NSAIDS that work fast.)
  • Willow bark – This herb is also a great remedy for inflammation. It contains high amounts of salicilin, which is also the active ingredient in aspirin. It can reduce pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions like burns, menstrual cramps, and toothache.

Learn more about the dangers of using pain reliever drugs by visiting

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