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One of America’s Most Common Pain Killers is Also One of Its Deadliest

Painkiller tablets

Odds Are It’s In Your Cabinet As You Read This

What’s absolutely crazy is how many drugs that are sold over the counter are really bad for us.

Acetaminophen is one of those drugs.

It’s believed that every single year there are 100,000 people who overdose on Acetaminophen.

Not all of those overdoses are intentional either.

Many of them are simply the result of continual day in, day out use of this drug. It’s believed that more than 50% of all liver failure is a result of the use of acetaminophen. And, it’s also believed to kill approximately 500 people every single year.

All I can say is, “Yikes.”

Despite what the makers of any form of acetaminophen might claim, there is a real and present danger that is presented by the chronic use of this drug.

After you read this, you might want to reconsider reaching for it when you’re in pain.

I’ll tell you what natural alternative you can use at the end of this article.

Here’s Why Acetaminophen Can Be So Bad For You

One of the biggest concerns with the use of acetaminophen is how just easy it is to get, and how easy it is to self-medicate with. There are many people out there who will take 1,000 mg (2 extra strength) acetaminophen tablets for headache or a sore back multiple times per day.

Over the years, this self medication can eventually take its toll. Take our Toxicity Quiz to see how well your liver is keeping up with toxins.

On an episode of This American Life with Ira Glass, Glass interviewed a physician named Sarah Erush.

Erush had been tapped by the FDA to research a startling number of deaths and overdoses at her hospital that all had been related to acetaminophen.

What she found shocked her.

“Erush was surprised by how little over the recommended dose of the drug resulted in liver damage and, for three patients, death.

One of the country’s most popular over-the-counter painkillers — acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol — also kills the most people, according to data from the federal government. Over 150 Americans die each year on average after accidentally taking too much. And it requires a lot less to endanger you than you may know.

The Journal of American medicine even found that normal use of acetaminophen can prove to be harmful even when taken at the recommended amount. The reason this is a problem is because your body continues to ingest acetaminophen and never has a chance to purge it all, which results in an overload to your body’s system.

Many times, these “staged overdoses” are more fatal than one single large overdose.

Essentially, the liver is just beaten into a pulp by the acetaminophen.

Makes you think twice about popping a few pills every day of the week to deal with the pain, doesn’t it?

Known Threat, and Still It’s Allowed to Be Sold?

One of the first prescription drugs to have a warning label affixed to it was acetaminophen.

Despite that warning label, many people still can’t quite conceive just how harmful it really is.

PBS did an in depth study on acetaminophen.

In that study, they found as many as 1,500 people had died from accidental overdose. And, more to the point, they found most of those people believed they were taking the safe amount…but they died nonetheless.

This is because the amount of deviation from safe to deadly is incredibly small.

PBS noted:

“Taken over several days, as little as 25 percent above the maximum daily dose – or just two additional extra strength pills a day – has been reported to cause liver damage, according to the [Food and Drug Administration]. Taken all at once, a little less than four times the maximum daily dose can cause death…

Warnings on liver damage were added to the drug’s label in 2009 by the FDA, 32 years after an expert panel convened by the agency advised it was ‘obligatory’ to do so. The recommendation was a part of a broader safety review of acetaminophen, which the report says has not yet been completed.”

The FDA has even known for some time just how harmful acetaminophen is, but haven’t done much to stop its distribution.

Only recently they recommended manufacturers lower the total amount of acetaminophen found in “Maximum Strength” from 500 mg to 325 mg.

Not all have complied, and even if they did, it doesn’t change the fact that acetaminophen still has pretty harsh affects on your body. Even if in low amounts.

How to Safely Take Acetaminophen

First, I’d have to start off by saying don’t take it if you can avoid it.

Don’t get me wrong, every now and then I’ll take one, but I’m not in the habit of making it a daily (or a weekly or even monthly) fixture in my life.

Here are some other pieces of advice when it comes to taking acetaminophen:

  • Do not take if you’ve had an alcoholic beverage within the past 24 hours. Since alcohol is metabolized by your liver (and can harm your liver), it’s always a good idea to space out the timing between the two.  If you have a hangover, do not take Tylenol, no matter how bad you want to!
  • Don’t take more than 500 mg in 12 hours. That’s probably a big change from what you hear normally in regards to dosing, but I think it’s one of the safest ways of ensuring you don’t consume too much.
  • Take it with NAC. Bruce only recently wrote an article on NAC. What NAC does is it helps to restore levels of glutathione (an antioxidant) which helps to protect the liver during the use of acetaminophen. In fact, if you were ever to overdose on acetaminophen, they’d be giving you NAC to help protect your liver.
  • Don’t mix it with other drugs that contain acetaminophen. This is a common practice for people, especially when they’re sick. Say you have a cold and a headache. Well, the typical response is to pop a pill for the headache and take a swig of cold medicine for the cold. This can push you over the recommended dose very quickly.

Here’s What to Take Instead

If you need to take something for aches and pains, I would definitely go with something natural if possible.

I am a big fan of Tart Cherry Extract for pain.  This actually has a similar mechanism of action as NSAIDs do (like Ibuprofen), but is much gentler and with less side effects.

Generally, 600mg once or twice daily will do the trick. Speaking of NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, aspirin, Advil, etc., I wouldn’t be so quick to take them either, but I’ll tell you more about them another time.

Other good options include Muscadine Grape Seed or Bromelain capsules.

For sore muscles and general aches and pains, stretching, yoga and exercise are sometimes enough.

You can also consider “natural” topical ointments like arnica gel and natural menthol to help relieve muscle pain.

Hopefully, some combination of these natural treatments will be enough.

All in all, it’s incredibly important to avoid the use of acetaminophen if possible.

Hope this gives you some clarity on a confusing issue. In

Be well,

Dr. Wiggy