Ibuprofen leads a broad pack of painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These drugs decrease production of prostraglandins, which can act as pain and inflammation messengers. When used habitually or preventively, though, they deter those hormones from doing another vital job: generating tissue-building collagen. Injured bone, ligament, and muscle can't heal as quickly or grow at the same rate, says Stuart T. Warden, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Indiana University's department of physical therapy. "Taking ibuprofen before a workout won't reduce soreness and can actually decrease the effectiveness of exercise," he says. NSAIDs also inhibit cyclooxygenase, an enzyme thought to be involved in the protection of the heart and stomach linings; this effect can lead to an increased risk of heart attack in susceptible people, as well as nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal bleeding.
Ease the pain Stop the prophylactic pill popping and head for the pool after your workout.
"The best treatment for muscle soreness is gentle exercise, like hydrotherapy--so walking or running in a pool for 20 minutes is one option," Warden says. The movement alleviates the fluid buildup that causes pain.
Free radicals: They're as scary as they sound. These cell-damaging molecules are thought to contribute to arthritis, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. Your potential lifesavers? Antioxidants. Those in beta-carotene and in vitamins C and E attack and neutralize the roaming free radicals. But antioxidant supplements are a different story--they might actually sideline your body's antioxidant defenses. In a German study, young men who exercised for 4 weeks saw an improvement in their sensitivity to insulin--a known exercise benefit that helps prevent type 2 diabetes--while those who exercised for 4 weeks while supplementing with vitamins C and E saw no boost.
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Let nature do its thing. Score your antioxidant infusion from a balanced diet; you'll hedge your bets in favor of any still-unknown benefits, and avoid megadosing. "It may be there is something in whole-food 'packaging' that makes the nutrients better absorbed or used than they would be in supplements," says Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., of the Mayo Clinic.
Pace your coffee intake to stay healthy -- and stave off caffeine addiction.
Toxicologists have an expression: "The dose makes the poison."
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