When you visit a pharmacy, there are dozens of over-the-counter painkillers to choose from. But does spending an extra dollar on a bottle of liquid gel capsules — as opposed to standard tablets — really mean faster and more effective pain relief?
There's not a whole lot of research investigating this question. But the studies that have compared the efficacy of different pills forms seem to indicate that both types work just as well, as long as they have the same amount of the active ingredient. For consumers, that might come as a surprise considering how liquid gels are marketed.
Take Advil, for example. The active ingredient in Advil is ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Advil Liqui-Gels are marketed in a way that suggests the capsules provide noticeably superior pain relief. But a 1991 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, arrived at a different conclusion.
For the study, 180 patients who had their wisdom teeth surgically removed were given 400 milligrams of ibuprofen — either in its traditional soluble form or in a gelatin capsule — 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." Ibuprofen in gelatin capsules seems to take effect four to six minutes faster.
Other studies examining the efficacy of different pill and vitamin preparations have arrived at similar conclusions, according to Consumer Reports.
In 2001, German researchers determined that ibuprofen administered in a gelatin capsule did release faster, but noted that a a quicker release did not affect the overall absorption of the pill.
So is going for the liquid gel capsules worth the extra three to five cents per pill?
That depends. From a clinical perspective, liquid gels do seem to be absorbed faster, if only by a few minutes. But there is one other factor take into consideration: some people find it easier to swallow painkillers in gel capsule form compared to chalky tablets. In terms of overall pain relief, though, both versions will do the trick.