Ever taken ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to reduce fever, pain or inflammation? If so, then you've benefited from a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID. NSAIDs work by inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins, chemicals that promote inflammation by dilating blood vessels and letting blood flow into body tissue. Prostaglandins are made by two enzymes that function the same but have different chemical signatures: cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). Some NSAIDs work by blocking the action of COX-2 or both COX-1 and COX-2. Ibuprofen falls in the latter category.
Here's where it gets interesting. Athletes have been taking ibuprofen for years to help recover from vigorous exercise. But some studies now indicate that chronic use of the medication may actually provide a performance-enhancing effect. A research team at the Human Performance Laboratory in Ball State University found that men and women who took a daily dose of ibuprofen were able to build substantially more muscle than those taking a placebo. The question remains whether ibuprofen is actually adding more protein to the muscle or simply reducing the pain often associated with a workout, allowing people to exercise longer and recover faster. Either way, using ibuprofen or other NSAIDs to enhance performance can be risky, as the drug can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.