Studies like these really make me think.
If this drug is able to negatively effect something so intricately complex, like a child’s behavior, what else can it do to our health – to our children’s health? For most people, they recognize Acetaminophen, or for my non-American readers, Paracetamol, under the brand name, Tylenol. However, this drug is found in numerous medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, including Day/NyQuil, Midol, Alka Seltzer, Hydrocodone, and Percocet, and may be one of the most dangerous ones so readily available. In fact, this drug is the number one reason people call the Poison Control Center, with over 100,000 calls per year. This ‘harmless drug’ sends 56,000 people to the ER and is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the US[5,6].
Acetaminophen and the Liver
In 2014, the FDA issued a safety alert statement, recommending that health care professionals stop giving prescriptions with more than 325 mg of acetaminophen because taking more than that may not outweigh “the added risks for liver injury.” Knowing this information now is extremely sobering, especially when realizing the flood of the drug my liver has had to process in the past, when taking extra-strength Tylenol for headaches. With the pills at 500mg each, and the dosing at 2 pills every 6 hours, who knows what I’ve done to my liver[8,9].
Acetaminophen and the Skin
Your liver is not the only thing affected by acetaminophen. Acetaminophen use, and accidental overuse, can wreak havoc on your skin-the largest organ you have. Acetaminophen has been linked to two, potentially fatal skin conditions: Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). These conditions cause severe blistering of the skin, and require hospitalization. To me, the scary thing is knowing how easy it is to take too much.
Acetaminophen and Children
Because NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and motrin, cannot be used in children under six months, the most commonly utilized pain reliever/fever reducer used for babies happens to be Acetaminophen. Using Acetaminophen in the first year of life has been documented as increasing the risk for the child to develop asthma, a condition that is affecting more people every single year in the US. In children given Acetaminophen during their first year of life, the risk of developing asthma was significantly higher than children who weren’t given the drug, and this finding has been replicated again and again[12,13]. Another worrisome finding is that Acetaminophen doesn’t only affect infants’ respiratory tracts in this way. In fact, another study found that using the drug with 13- and 14-year-olds could result in their development of asthma, and other allergic conditions, like eczema. Another thing I find interesting is how quickly Tylenol is recommended on teething infants. This is so strange to me, because in 2011 the FDA recommended that all infants’ Tylenol remove their analgesic (pain-relief) claim, because there is no evidence that it relieves pain in children between 6 months and 2 years of age.
Acetaminophen and the Hormones
The interaction of hormones within the human body are a delicate dance, impacting virtually every area of life. Too many of one, and you may experience side effects like a woman growing facial hair. Too few of another, and a man may find his sex drive lowered. Acetaminophen use has been identified as a potential endocrine disruptor, essentially resulting in the depletion of sex hormones[16,17].
Acetaminophen and Glutathione
As if all that evidence wasn’t enough, the science behind glutathione and acetaminophen’s impact on our body’s production of it sent me tossing all the Acetaminophen-containing products our house had. Glutathione is considered the mother of all antioxidants. It has been praised as protecting the body from chronic illness, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, Cystic Fibrosis, dementia, and even aging[18,19]. Glutathione detoxifies your body, recycles antioxidants, and is vital to the immune system. Even small changes in the levels our bodies maintain can result in profound and catastrophic consequences. The problem with Acetaminophen? With every dose, the drug significantly decreases these levels in the body. Just imagine how it’s affecting you in ways you don’t even realize.
Thankfully, the Earth has given us alternatives.
One of the most common reasons for Tylenol use is headaches. Headaches, especially recurrent or severe headaches (like migraines) are also a tell-tale sign that your body is low in magnesium. Honestly, most Americans should be on a magnesium supplement anyway, as studies have shown that nearly half are severely deficient in this essential mineral. For me, personally, a daily magnesium supplement is all I needed to completely stop my migraines during pregnancy. In research, magnesium supplementation has proven to be highly effective at reducing inflammation and relieving pain overall[24,25,26].
You can find a magnesium supplement I recommend here.
When taking Tylenol for aches and pains, it is very likely that the major cause of the pain is inflammation in the affected area. Ginger has actually been proven to rival drugs like Ibuprofen and Motrin for its anti-inflammatory capabilities[27,28]. The herb naturally helps reduce inflammatory response in the body, and has been utilized for these benefits for hundreds of years. In more recent years, ginger has shown impressive ability to relieve pain, especially in women suffering from heavy and painful periods.
You can find a ginger supplement I recommend here.
In our house, our favorite pain reliever is turmeric, and it’s my go-to for everything – from bumps and bruises, to migraines and toothache. Because of its active ingredient, curcumin, turmeric is an incredible natural pain reliever. Curcumin is recognized as a potent anti-inflammatory in the medical community, and helps relieve pain just as effectively as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications[31,32]. Because of a car accident a couple of years ago, my husband has tons of experience with the pain-relieving properties of turmeric. He takes a daily supplement, and I use it in cooking almost every day.
You can find a curcumin supplement I recommend here.
It’s scary to me how little we really know about these medications that are so common and so easy to get. I just hope that as we know better, we do better.
Until next time,
1. JAMA Pediatrics Association of Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy with Behavioral Problems in Childhood
2. CDC Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
3. Psych Central ADHD Diagnoses Up 66 Percent Since 2000
4. NCBI Acetaminophen and the U.S. Acute Liver Failure Study Group: Lowering the Risk of Hepatic Failure
5. NCBI Estimates of Acetaminophen (Paracetamol)-Associated Overdoses in the United States
6. NCBI Acute Liver Failure Including Acetaminophen Overdose
7. NABP Acetaminophen Prescription Combination Drug Products with More than 325 mg: FDA Statement – Recommendation to Discontinue Prescribing and Dispensing
8. Tylenol Tylenol Extra Strength Caplets
9. NCBI Acetaminophen/Paracetamol: A History of Errors, Failures, and False Decisions
10. WebMD FDA Warns of Rare Acetaminophen Risk
11. NCBI Acetaminophen Use and Asthma in Children
12. NCBI Exposure to Paracetamol and Antibiotics in Early Life and Elevated Risk of Asthma in Childhood
13. NCBI Acetaminophen and/or Antibiotic Use in Early Life and the Development of Childhood Allergic Diseases
14. ATSJournals Acetaminophen Use and Risk of Asthma, Rhinoconjunctivitis, and Eczema in Adolescents
15. FDA Summary Minutes of the Joint Meeting of the Nonprescriptive Drugs Advisory Committee and the Pediatric Advisory Committee May 17-18, 2011
16. NCBI Paracetamol, Aspirin, and Indomethacin Display Endocrine Disrupting Properties in the Adult Human Testis in Vitro
17. NCBI Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Use Modifies the Sulfation of Sex Hormones
18. NCBI The Importance of Glutathione in Human Disease
19. NCBI The Emerging Role of Glutathione in Alzheimer’s Disease
20. NCBI Glutathione and Immune Function
21. NCBI Acetaminophen Decreases Intracellular Glutathione Levels and Modulates Cytokine Production in Human Alveolar Macrophages and Type II Pneumocytes in Vitro
22. NCBI Why All Migraine Patients Should be Treated with Magnesium
23. NCBI Suboptimal Magnesium Status in the United States: Are the Health Consequences Underestimated?
24. British Journal of Anasthesia Magnesium Sulphate Attenuates Acute Postoperative Pain and Increased Pain Intensity After Surgical Injury in Staged Bilateral Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial
25. NCBI Intravenous Magnesium Sulphate for Analgesia after Cesarean Section: A Systematic Review
26. NCBI Effects of Oral Magnesium Supplementation on Inflammatory Markers in Middle-Aged Overweight Women
27. NCBI Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence
28. NCBI Comparison of Anti-Inflammatory and Analgesic Effects of Ginger Powder and Ibuprofen in Postsurgical Pain Model: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Case-Control Clinical Trial
29. Pain Medicine Efficacy of Ginger for Alleviating the Symptoms of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials
30. NCBI Curcumin Treatment Attenuates and Enhances Functional Recovery After Incision
31. NCBI Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Curcumin: A Major Constituent of Curcuma Longa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research
32. NCBI The Comparison of Preemptive Analgesic Effects of Curcumin and Diclofenac