Coincidentally, I’m writing this article with not one, not two but three Advil Liqui-Gels coursing through my body. I imagine that by now, the kryptonite-colored liquid has burst free from its gel larva and begun its march toward suffocating the parts of my body that are causing my head to ache. It should be stated that I’ve been team Advil Liqui-Gel ever since my first drug dealer — aka my mother — handed me my first glistening translucent capsule back in high school. It worked magically then, and it continues to inspire awe, even today.
But have I been played for a fool all these years simply by a jade color that seems practically intergalactic? Am I so deeply ensnared by the liqui(d) and the gel and the green that I’m missing out on the bevy of over the counter pain relief options provided by my lord and savior Big Pharma?
First, let’s better understand what we’re talking about when we talk about over-the-counter pain relief pills. According to WebMD, there are two categories: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Amongst NSAIDs there are two major categories of drugs — ibuprofen, which is found in Motrin and Advil, or naproxen which is found in Aleve.
As for which pain relievers are for what, it depends on your stomach: Harvard Health suggests using Acetaminophen (Tylenol) to treat mild pain because it’s easier on your stomach than NSAIDs. “The recommended maximum per day is generally set at 4 grams (4,000 milligrams), which is the equivalent of eight extra-strength Tylenol tablets,” they report. On the other hand, NSAIDs are more effective than acetaminophen because they reduce inflammation as well as relieve pain. “But NSAID medications have side effects, the most common is stomach irritation,” explains Harvard Health. “It can also cause stomach and intestinal ulcers, which can lead to internal bleeding.”
In other words, if you’re like me and you just want the mind-numbing headache to disappear as quickly and effectively as possible, NSAIDs are your best bet, in spite of their proclivity to cause internal bleeding.
But now, we return to the initial dilemma: Is there any reason to cough up the extra $3 for a container of Liqui-Gels versus tablets? According to Advil’s website, the only difference between Liqui-Gels and coated tablets is that the gels contain a liquid form of ibuprofen instead of the standard salt form found in Advil Film-Coated Tablets. But while the amount of ibuprofen is the same, the website does note that Liqui-Gels are easier to swallow. “Gelcaps are easier to swallow than hard tablets, though they have to be bigger to fit in the same amount of formula,” Stephen Ross, MD, a family physician at the Santa Monica-University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, told Health.com.
Still, there’s some evidence that those glowing green capsules do, in fact, work a bit faster. Specifically, one 1991 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, looked at 180 patients who had their wisdom teeth removed and were given 400 milligrams of ibuprofen. Some were given gelatin capsules, while others were given the tablets immediately following the dental procedure. “The researchers found ‘no difference’ in the ‘efficacy of the two ibuprofen preparations,’ though the tablet did have a ‘slightly earlier onset of action,’” reports attn. “Ibuprofen in gelatin capsules seems to take effect four to six minutes faster.”
To that end, the same article notes that in 2001, German researchers confirmed the findings from the 1991 study and found that while the gelatin capsule did release faster, the quicker release didn’t have an affect on the overall absorption of the ibuprofen.
All of which fills me and my bludgeoned stomach with vindication that the gels are more effective than the tablets in quelling my pain — even if only by a margin of minutes.
Ah yes, I can feel it now: Sweet, sweet emerald gel relief!