Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin are widespread. At the first signs of pain, many people think nothing of popping a pain relief pill. But regular use of NSAIDs may inhibit muscle growth.
Researchers in Sweden studied the effect of NSAIDs on muscle growth and strength in healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 years old. They were separated into two groups, one of whom took 1200 milligrams of ibuprofen daily and the other 75 milligrams of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) daily for eight weeks.
The two groups each completed leg-strengthening exercises under supervision, with one leg performing exercises on a flywheel ergometer while the other leg performed normal weight training exercises. At the end of the eight-week period, the group that took the low dose of aspirin had gained quadriceps mass that was nearly double that of the high-dose ibuprofen group. Increases in muscle strength were also generally greater in the group that took low doses of aspirin vs. the high-dose ibuprofen group.
The researchers suspect that high doses of NSAIDs may, therefore, have a negative impact on muscle mass, at least among young people. The study’s findings partially contradict other studies that have found benefits to NSAIDs in maintaining muscle mass among older populations. Either those previous studies were wrong or the mechanisms by which muscle mass is developed and maintained differ as people age.
Some drawbacks to this recent study include the fact that the high-dose and low-dose groups were taking different drugs; a study to compare higher and lower doses of the same drug would confirm the research’s hypothesis. There also was no control group of individuals who took no NSAIDs, which would have been helpful in determining whether even the low-dose groups were inhibiting muscle growth compared to those who don’t use NSAIDs.