Acetaminophen: the Killer Painkiller


The active ingredient in the painkillers Tylenol, Anacin and Panadol was the focus of a recent analysis of 19 studies of 425,000 children and adults treated with acetaminophen in the past year. Children given acetaminophen were 60 percent more likely to suffer from asthma, while adults who had taken the drug were 75 percent more likely to experience asthma. According to a University of British Columbia-Vancouver review published in the journal Chest, higher doses translated to a greater risk of asthma.

The March 2010 issue of the American Journal of Medicine contained an analysis of data from 26,000 men, participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Researchers at Harvard University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Vanderbilt University, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, determined that men younger than 60 who used acetaminophen were 61 percent more likely to experience hearing loss. Studies appearing in the journal Drug Safety (2008 Vol 31:pp127-141) have linked acetaminophen to adverse vision events.

reading the labelThe U.S. Acute Liver Failure Study Group found that acetaminophen poisoning is the leading cause of liver failure in the nation, associated with nearly 50 percent of all liver failure . The Life Extension Foundation has also sounded the alarm about acetaminophen and liver damage.

With 70-75 million prescriptions written annually, acetaminophen is the most commonly prescribed class of drugs in the United States. It is blamed for 56,000 injuries, 25,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been aware of this situation for decades. As early as 1977, the agency warned about acetaminophen and liver damage. The FDA Advisory Review Panel noted that exceeding the recommended dosage or (please note the or) taking acetaminophen for more than 10 days puts the patient at risk of liver damage. A suggestion that pharmacists distribute information explaining the risks of this drug has fallen on deaf ears at the FDA.

A study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research cautioned that adverse reactions to acetaminophen not only affect patients’ quality of life, they also impose substantial economic burdens on society. Given all that we know now, how can the FDA remain silent about acetaminophen?

  • Susan Grant

    Did you know that there are many people who are allergic to Ibuprofen and aspirin and they could potentiallyt kill many more people in the population at large. Sometimes no matter how consistent a person is with natural or homeopathic painkillers, they do not work. It is a matter of moderation in usage! With any product, moderation and mindfulness are VERY important!

    Ibuprofen and the associated anti inflammatory drugs can and do cause heart attacks.

    If you have osteoarthritis and have tried almost all the herbal and homeopathic and nutritional products and good diet and you still have the basic problem of intense pain, you have to use something. Most of the painkillers have either ibuprofen, asprin or acetaminophen with the painkiller. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to use something, when it gets that bad then thank goodness, they are still available. All of the above for the different individuals.

    • Les

      Susan, Pain like that is hard to take. While there are people that experience that kind of pain, many can do well with combinations of Boswellia, ginger, tumeric, upping omega 3 levels, dietary changes and other strategies. For those that suffer severe pain, might it be better to be treated with small amounts of narcotic under a pain manager than to use a hepatotoxin chronically? I have patients that have really improved the quality of their lives with almost no side effects with very small doses of narcotics to reduce the noxious input.

  • stan alderson

    please send alternatives, my daughter suffer from migraines, much like her mother. what is safe

    • Caroline

      Try acupuncture which really does work to get rid of pain and headaches. Also, check the diet. I found I as allergic to cinnamon and it gave me migraines. Many times, if a person is very emotional – anger, frustration, stressed – these bring on migraines as well. As a health consultant, many times a complete calcium/magnesium/manganese/vitamin D/iron/copper can rid us of a headache brought on by stress or overdoing. These have worked work for many over the years. Drink water! the brain needs it too, and cut down on sugars and carbs because the body can only handle so much junk and then rebels. Exercise helps too.

    • Les

      Is it safe to assume you have had a multi-disciplinary workup with multiple trials of care, including: Acupuncture
      myoascial release
      dietary counselling
      allergy workup
      Hormone workup
      “herbal” NSAIDs
      self-administered ergotamine injection

      One of these helps most people most of the time.

    • Jean Ludwig

      Migraine is a serious problem. There are a number of causes. Off the top of my hat I can think of a few. Check them out. Tryptamines can cause. Some foods contain them. Some people have a genetic variation of an enzyme called MTHFR. If you have this, then you usually have elevated homocysteine. You doctor can test for this. Aspartam in artificial sweetners causes migraine in some people and so does MSG which is, unfortunately, everywhere. Test for vit B12 deficiency. The regular blood test is unreliable. Having hypersegmentatie (too many dark spots in the leucocytes (WBC) is one sign and larger than normal red blood cells is another. Having a slow thyroid even when it test as normal is another. Elevated copper (and therefore low zinc) another. Low tryptophan results in low serotonine which in turn can cause depression, sleep disorders and more problemen. Sometimes an herbal by the name of feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) helps people. I hope some of these suggestions can help you and your daughter.


      Jean Ludwig

    • Renee

      nothing is really safe. i’ve had migraines since I was 6 (I am now 30) and I’m sure when I was young, was given tylenol — I’m allergic to ibuprofen. As I got older, was prescribed naproxen, aka aleve, and that is no good since it can do damage to the lining of one’s stomach if taken for a prolonged period of time. My advice would be to see a doctor. They will have you document the migraines, so you may as well go ahead and start — how often she has them, weather patterns, how much sleep she’s gotten when she gets them, what she’s been eating and if she’s old enough, she should also keep track of her menstrual cycle as all of these factors can affect migraines, but the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to handle it when the doctors ask you what’s going on and to help you take it from there. Depending on how often she’s getting them, a preventative medication might be best for her, or a medication that she takes only when she gets one, or a combination of the two may be needed. It’s different for each person. It doesn’t run in my family, but it tends to in most and shows up more often in females. Good luck!

    • Lisa

      More and likely the migranes are cause by food additives that you consume. I changed my diet (lifestyle) over 10 years ago and I no longer get migrane headaches at all! Eliminate all High Fructose Corn Syrup, all MSG, (mono-sodium glutamate) this is a big one, (if I eat it now I definitely get migranes), eliminate any foods that state “Artificial Ingredients”, why are you eating it? These types of foods are made with synthetic chemicals that your bodies react to in a way that causes some type of pain. Our bodies cannot digest these ingredients and they are stored in the liver and cause damage to your body. We weren’t meant to eat artifical foods. Stick to pure, organic foods where possible. Even if it says “Natural” you still need to read the ingredients. If the product you are buying has a huge list of ingredients put it back, even if it is your favorite food, It could be killing you slowing from the inside out. The pain is a way for your body to say STOP what you are doing and change. Also try meditating to relieve your pain, don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution.

  • Rudy Jacobs

    I’m 87 and have arthritic pain. My Dr doesn’t like aspirin and advises Tylenol
    Which is worse?
    Or is there a safer alternative? After reading this article, I’m afraid to take anything!

    • Monkeyron

      For your Arthritic Pain, I would check out Magna Pulsing. Even Strong Earth Magnets over the joint areas can Releive pain. Dr. Bob Beck was a Physicist. He learned that Magnetic Pulsing could also help stem cells repair damaged Cells faster. He gave out his free book call “Take back Your Power”. It’s still a great tool.

  • What is a good natural pain killer? I cannot take ibuprophen or alieve. It might be helpful to give substitutes that might work ( after consulting with a physician).

    • Les

      Why not try a combination of herbal pain relievers that act like COX 1 inhibitors–Tumeric extract and Omerga 3s, COX 2 inhibitors–Ginger extract, LOX inhibitors–Boswellia. See a Naturopath or a Chiropractor about precise dosages and potential side-effects. You COULD consult with most MDs and get a blank stare regarding use of these pain relievers, but some have educated themselves enough to recommend them.

    • try opc3 some natural and organic picnogenol also fish oil (sardines and anchovies only)
      go youtube and search ‘picnogenol and fox news “my mother take it,it is the best antioxidant
      on earth! you can find in my portal
      call me if you want 781-492-8281 thanks MARCIA OUELLET

  • Kerry Schoonmaker

    Acetaminophen is not an active ingredient in Anacin. Anacin contains aspirin as the active ingredient. Check your facts please.

    • Carol

      It is in the aspirin-free anacin.

  • 03-30-10

    Thank you for this message especially about Tylenol…

    • 03-30-10
      This information is very well recognized because just last week I purchased Acetaminophen because of sore throat. It was not a prescription. I have stopped using it for sure, however it did solve the problem.

      I use very few synthetic products. I am very aggressive in using only nature food supplements and have very few medical problems in the past 10 years.

      Keep your alliance to health information available please. GW

  • ObserverOnTheHill

    Yet a few people who abused ephedra died and that was enough to get it banned in the US. Oh, now I remember, that’s because it was an herb and natural, could not be patented. The FDA is simply looking out for the drug companies as they know who is the hand that feeds them. What a CORRUPT organization.

  • Joseph C Moore Cpo USN Ret

    iatrogenic illness and death is a leading malady of modern medicine, yet the FDA proscribes uses of alternative and natural treatments as detrimental to patients. The FDA even has a legal statement that “only a drug can cure a disease” in the face of studies and hundreds of years of natural treatments proving otherwise. The FDA is well funded by the Drug Lobby.

  • Barbara

    since I am an RN I may believe this children. In adults, not true, why? I for one have to take this, and anyone that takes over 4000mgs/day would be in danger.

    Never had a bad liver profile either!

  • Dr. Beverly Teter, PhD, FACN, CNS

    So why is it STILL on the market. If a supplement had these types of effects it would be banned.

  • Ann

    “Sometimes we have to use something” — from Susan:

    That is beside the point. The facts/research should be made well-known and easily accessible to the public. Pharmacists and doctors should provide such information if/when they suggest or provide the drug. It is not their job to “screen” the facts for us; we are ultimately responsible for ourselves. I, personally, do not want anybody else weighing risks and benefits for me.

    To Barbara, RN: Being an RN has little to do with this. You are no more or less able than the next intelligent human being to read the information of scientists and researchers, and to analyze their data and their findings. Even as an RN, you seem to give “significant” weight to your one situation of not having a bad liver profile, as compared to the statistically significant findings of numbers of studies, involving tens of thousands of participants, over a number of years.

  • Jo

    People don’t realize that most of these cases are from drugs being abused and over used. Also some people take meds and they don’t realise that sometimes the dose offered is a “recomeded” dose and they really don’t need to take that much of the meds which cause the persons liver to over work and store excess chemicals. I rarely ever take the recommended does when it comes to pain killers and anti-inflamatories and they work fine for me.

  • Louann

    sorry, but it is true for adults as well. I have RA and have been taking it for several years (in my pain med). And yes, i do get abnormal liver labs. And I am a retired RN.

  • Reducing salt/sodium intake reduces many types of pain, e.g. osteoarthritis and migraines. Happily, there are no adverse side-effects from cutting down on salt – only many health benefits, including lowering high blood pressure and risk of stroke and heart attack.

    • DeJay

      We are all different. What works for one will not work for all. I started having migraines when I was 11 years old (1940) and being analytical came to the conclusion that within the last 24 hours I had a period of high stress. The pain relievers only made me feel worse after upchucking. Went to doctors where each one had a different remedy that didn’t work. Had my eyes checked several times. The last time a doctor sent me to an eye specialist who said my vision was better then normal and the one day I’d wake up and wonder when I had the last headache. A couple years later that is what happened and I have been vertualy without any type of pain for the last 70 to 80 years. Get a handle on stress and you will cure a lot of health problems.

  • Jim Greiner

    There are obviously a lot of different alternatives to acetaminophen. Almost every reply has had a different suggestion, so why hasn’t this study received more publicity? A wonderful alternative that my wife and I, and thousands of others, use is a supplement of mangosteen juice, specifically a product called XanGo. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and has no side effects. My wife experienced severe migraine headaches for the first 55 years of her life until she started using this supplement and has not had only several in the past seven years of using this product. It has also eliminated her arthritic pain. A friend who was debilitated with rheumatoid arthritis now uses it and is back to her artistic work. I use it instead of low-dose aspirin and to eliminate pain for its occasional occurences in my life. It works for me too. There are many commentaries about this.

  • If you’re affected by rheumatoid arthritis you should be aware that recent research indicates that there are actually multiple genetic and environmental components involved in the cause of the disease. Each person also respond in different ways to the available treatments.

  • Jillel

    Massage and stretching works wonders. This doesn’t mean just have the therapist stretch you, but start stretching every day, start for a few minutes and go slowly. Stretching shouldn’t be rushed. Severe pain can disappear because, remember, pain is a warning sign. Kill the warning sign and the problem continues. Pain in your shoulders or thumbs can come from your elbows. Diet change works wonders. Come on, people, herbs and minerals are fabulous, but do not underestimate the power of movement.

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