Menu

Blog

The Danger of Acetaminophen: Bad News for Your Liver

Posted by

From time to time, we all experience pain. Whether it’s from the occasional pulled muscle, monthly menstrual cramps, or recovery from an injury, we just want to make it go away – and fast!

Our culture has made it customary to seek relief by pill popping. And it’s easy to do with a plethora of over the counter pain medications available today designed to fit our preferences – liquid, capsule, tablet, chewable, flavored, non-drowsy, for daytime, for nighttime.

The OTC drug industry shows no signs of slowing down, even as wise consumers are starting to re-think what goes into those OTC concoctions and the potential harm extended use can cause, like side effects, exposure to toxins and permanent organ damage.

And one of the big offenders is acetaminophen, which can also be lurking on your drug facts panel under the name paracetamol.


Why We Fell for Acetaminophen's Promises of Pain Relief

Acetaminophen falls under the drug classifications of pain reliever (analgesic) and fever reducer (antipyretic). It relieves pain by elevating your pain threshold and reduces fever by chemically telling the brain’s heat-regulating center to lower body temperature when it’s elevated.

Acetaminophen has been available as a non-prescription pain reliever in the US since the 1960s. The list of generic drugs containing acetaminophen has names you’ve most likely heard of including Tylenol, Excedrin, Sudafed, Midol, and Nyquil.

And although its discovery has brought relief to millions over the years, it’s not without a dark side that pharmaceutical companies don’t like to highlight. According to LiverTox, more than 25 billion doses of acetaminophen are sold each year in the US alone.It’s easy to see why we’re drawn to this miracle drug. It’s readily available without a prescription. It’s affordable. It comes in formulas deemed safe for children. It can be combined with decongestants, antihistamines, and sleep aids to combat colds and allergies. And it can mean relief from minor pain and fever, curtailing a trip to your doctor’s office.


Acetaminophen Causes Liver Damage

The drug manufacturers and even some physicians claim acetaminophen is harmless at low doses. However, it can be toxic to your liver at higher doses or when used for prolonged periods. Acute liver damage and even death from acute liver failure is a possibility .

Hepatotoxicity, or chemical-driven liver damage, is a cause of both acute and chronic liver disease. As a main filter organ, the liver clears out toxins and wastes from the body. But if the liver becomes overwhelmed, damage can ensue.

Acetaminophen itself is not the likely cause of said damage, rather it’s the metabolite n-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI) produced by liver enzymes during the break down of acetaminophen. Under normal conditions NAPQI interacts with glutathione to be detoxified and excreted. But taking too much acetaminophen increases the level of NAPQI and can short circuit the detoxification process, leading to liver cell damage.

Acetaminophen doses of four grams daily can lead to elevated serum aminotransferase, an increase of liver enzymes recognized as an indicator of liver damage. Someone with severe or chronic pain might be taking larger or more frequent doses than suggested. Just 3-7 days of high or frequent dosing can start the damage, which generally has no symptoms to alert you that something could be wrong.

The FDA makes manufacturers of OTC acetaminophen products note the potential damage to the liver on drug packaging:

Liver warning:This product contains acetaminophen. Severe liver damage may occur if you take • more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in 24 hours • with other drugs containing acetaminophen • 3 or more alcoholic drinks every day while using this product.”

Acetaminophen is present in several prescription drugs including: Hydrocet, Hydrocodone, NORCO, Oxycodone, Percocet, Tapanol, Vicodin, and Zydone.

Even when sticking to the manufacturer’s suggested use, if combined with other acetaminophen-containing drugs, consumers may be unaware of how much acetaminophen they’re actually ingesting. Overdose from prescription combination products containing acetaminophen account for nearly half of all cases of acetaminophen-related liver failure in the US.


Reversing the Damage

Too much acetaminophen doesn’t have to mean a death sentence. The liver is a regenerating organ, meaning damaged sections can be regrown to return functionality. Minor aminotransferase elevation can be resolved by discontinuing acetaminophen, often without lasting effects.

An acetaminophen overdose, however, can cause acute liver injury and liver failure that can result in death or the need for a liver transplant. According to LiverTox, acetaminophen is the major cause of acute liver failure in the US, Europe, and Australia.

Liver damage from acetaminophen may be prevented or reversed with a substantial increase of glutathione in the liver. This can be done with n-acetyl cysteine (NAC), a non-prescription amino acid derivative that is a precursor to glutathione production. In fact, it’s standard practice to administer NAC in cases of acetaminophen overdose. Details of administration and assistance can be obtained from Poison Control Centers.

So if you’re taking OTC or prescription drugs with acetaminophen, it may be wise to take NAC to counteract the toxic effects to your liver.


Other Unwanted Acetaminophen Side Effects

Liver damage aside, pain medications are notorious for causing constipation. If you’re taking pain meds, including acetaminophen, be sure to boost your fiber intake and drink plenty of water to keep things moving.

Other unpleasant side effects may include nausea, itchiness or rash, drowsiness, or a sluggish mental state.


Skip the Drugs, Try These Natural Pain Relievers

Acute and chronic pain management doesn’t have to mean pumping your system with potentially toxic chemicals. There are a number of natural solutions that are toxin-free, addiction and dependency-free, readily available (most without prescription), and affordable even if your insurance won’t cover them. Talk to a naturopathic doctor about customizing a pain management plan that incorporates these alternative pain relief practices to suite your needs.

Alternative Pain Relief Therapies: Massage, acupuncture, cupping, and chiropractic sessions can promote blood circulation and influence processes that regulate immune function to help the healing process.

Medical Marijuana & CBD: Cannabis can be taken in a variety of forms, including consumables, smoked, vaporized, or applied as a topical cream. There is strong opposition from Big Pharma to legalize marijuana in the US because that would eat away at their bottom line if cannabis took the place of many synthetic drugs that provide the same benefits for pain management, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and seizures.

If marijuana isn’t an option for you, CBD products in the natural healthcare realm are booming. Cannabidiol (CBD) products do not contain the chemical THC, which is what causes the feeling of getting high when using traditional cannabis. CBD oil is said to reduce pain and lower inflammation.

Ice and Heat: Use ice for acute injuries to minimize blood flow and reduce swelling and pain. Use heat to loosen muscles and stiff joints and to help regain mobility.

Supplements: A number of herbs, essential oils, and other nutraceuticals can help to relieve minor pain and inflammation. Curcumin, ginger, bromelain and the omega-3fatty acid DHA can help to inhibit prostaglandins that trigger pain, fever, and inflammation. Topical applications with essential oils or capsaicin (mix with a carrier oil first) can dull the pain of sore muscles.

Make the switch to natural pain relievers for your liver’s sake. Ditch the manufactured chemicals in pharmaceutical pain medications that pollute the body, cause side effects, and make your body work harder to metabolize. You’ve got options galore to customize a natural pain management plan.

Why You Need to Take Vitamin K with Calcium Supplements

A subgroup analysis of a study on 24,000 Europeans suggested increased risk of cardiovascular disease for those taking ONLY calcium supplements (1). Let's dive into how you can protect yourself from hardened arteries from calcium supplements. It is a well-established fact that when you take calcium you should also take magnesium. This is because magnesium helps your body keep the calcium you [...]

Read More »

7 Dietary Mistakes that Increase Kidney Stone Risk

Ever experienced some unexplained lower back ache? Perhaps you slept in a weird position. But did the low back ache coincide with a fever and chills or even abdominal pain and vomiting? Maybe you’ve got a touch of the flu or food poisoning. But if you’re also experiencing trouble urinating, you’ve just hit the telltale combination of symptoms that point to [...]

Read More »

10 Foods for Heart Health You Should Be Eating

This month we solute the heart. And all things heart-shaped on a particular day this month, if you’re into that sort of thing. But you really should be practicing heart-healthy habits every day, all year round. And what do we do every day? Eat. Usually multiple times a day. These days with the plethora of readily available foods at our fingertips, it’s [...]

Read More »

6 Essential Compounds Your Body Stops Making As You Age

Some regard age as nothing but a number. But the realists of the world are keeping track of the growing number of less than desirable side effects of aging. And this includes putting the brakes on certain compounds our bodies make – stuff we absolutely need. The internal machinery in all of us isn’t built to run full steam ahead [...]

Read More »

9 Supplements to Regulate Thyroid Function

When you think about the engine-like organ that keeps your body going, which organ comes to mind? You could consider the heart that constantly pumps life-giving blood throughout the body, transporting oxygen and vital nutrients. Or perhaps the brain, which is like the control tower at a busy airport, continuously sending and receiving messages to choreograph a multitude of functions. But did [...]

Read More »

The Best Time to Take Vitamins and Other Supplements

If you’re an avid supplement taker, you’ve probably wondered if there’s actually a better time of day to take your supplements. Should you take them as soon as you wake up in the morning? Is it better on an empty stomach or with food? What if you have no routine at all and you take your vitamins and other dietary supplements [...]

Read More »

How to Avoid the Winter Blues

Cold weather and shorter days are not for everyone. In fact some people are downright depressed about it. It’s not uncommon to feel down this time of year over stressful holidays or absent loved ones. This is what’s known as the “winter blues.” But some may experience more severe mood changes that last throughout the fall and winter. These more [...]

Read More »

Cold & Flu Prevention: How not to get it or spread it

It’s that time of the year again! The chilly weather, the holiday cheer, the coughing, the congestion, the full body ache . . . Yep. Cold and flu season is here! With the approaching holidays, many of us will be surrounded by others and their germs. Whether you’re amongst the thong of strangers doing the holiday shopping or being generous [...]

Read More »

Dangerous Beauty: The Chemical Evils in Personal Care Products

The year is swiftly coming to an end and the time to set the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolution is upon us!But why not think about it as a chance to make a permanent change? A simple tweak in your daily routine that is beneficial to your health. How about you make a commitment to eliminating [...]

Read More »

×
×