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Can ibuprofen ease your emotional pains, too?

Research suggests that over-the-counter pain meds may also affect how we process thoughts and feelings.
Photo: ISTOCK

When you have a headache, feel sore from working out, or are stricken with menstrual cramps,  popping a couple ibupfrofen is a tried and true method of pain relief. But what if over-the-counter pain meds can also help you cope with feelings of anxiety or depression?

A new article published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences finds that standard doses of pills like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen have a numbing effect on emotional and psychological pains, too. 

The article authors Ratner et al. looked at the existing research on this topic and found a number of compelling examples of how pain relievers also work as lowkey antidepressants. 

In one study, women who took ibuprofen reported “less hurt feelings from emotional experiences” compared to a group who took placebos. Could be a helpful buffer if you're trying to keep it together at work and don't have time for a melt down.

In more disturbing news, another study found that acetaminophen can hinder empathy, with subjects reporting less emotional distress after reading about the suffering of others.

Additional research showed that acetaminophen lessened reactions to emotional objects, such as photographs depicting pleasant or unpleasant events, and made it easier for individuals to part with sentimental items. (Who needs Marie Kondo?) 

The authors described the results as “alarming,” given that consumers who take pain pills to ease physical pains aren’t expecting any effect on the psyche. They also noted that more research is needed to see how these doses might interfere with prescription medications for anxiety and depression, which would influence how policy makers regulate them.