An “Everyday” Drug Causes Acute Liver Damage


tylenolBut the New York Times blames supplements instead. Action Alert!

According to the FDA, acetaminophen—the active ingredient in Tylenol—was the leading cause of acute liver failure in Americans between 1998 and 2003. There is no reason to think this has changed since.

Every year, 78,000 people go to the emergency room from intentional or accidental acetaminophen overdose; 33,000 are hospitalized, at last count 458 die (2006 data). The problem has gotten so bad that the FDA has asked doctors to stop prescribing any medication that has more than 325 mg of acetaminophen per dose.

Acetaminophen is dangerous because just a small extra amount can create a dangerous overdose: twice the maximum safe dose taken over just several days could cause severe liver damage. Sometimes, according to the former head of the Drug Information Center at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, “the difference between a safe dose and a dangerous dose is two Extra Strength Tylenol tablets.”

The FDA has been aware of the acetaminophen problem since 1977, when an expert advisory panel recommended that drugs like Tylenol carry a warning label about liver damage. Yet the agency refused to implement the warning label until a full thirty-two years later, in 2009.

Given the lack of FDA action, it would make sense for the media to publicize the dangers of such a common and ubiquitously available over-the-counter product. But when the New York Times published an article on liver damage and health products, they said not one word about Tylenol or acetaminophen. They instead put the blame solely on nutritional supplements!

What has happened to the New York Times? It was once our national “newspaper of record.” Now it seems to be engaging in cover-ups for the drug industry.

The article, “Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids,” cites some seemingly alarming statistics: based on a recent study presented by the Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network at a November 2013 conference, “nearly 20% of drug-related liver injuries” that require a hospital visit can be attributed to dietary supplements.

First, note that the above quote mistakenly equates dietary supplements with drugs. How can “drug-related liver injuries” be attributable to supplements? This could be either sloppy journalism (dietary supplements are in a different regulatory category—if they were drugs, then they’d be regulated as drugs!), or a deliberate political statement: after all, the aim of anti-supplement politicians and entities like Senator Durbin is to regulate supplements like drugs.

Second, the article fails even to mention what caused the remaining 80% of liver-damage hospital visits—drugs, especially acetaminophen. And once you look at the complete data from 2004 to 2012, the percent of visits attributable to supplements falls to 15%.

What’s going on here? With drugs causing the most liver damage (and let’s not forget that prescription drugs in general are the fourth leading cause of death in America, based on hospital data alone), why is the New York Times attacking dietary supplements? After all, at the very same conference where the cited study was presented, there were eighteen sessions on liver damage due to acetaminophen—and only two presentations on dietary supplements and liver damage.

We are sorry to say that it may be linked to the pharmaceutical industry’s advertising clout, which the NYT depends upon. In its 2012 annual report, the NYT stated the obvious fact that it depends for its survival on advertising revenue. In 2012, Big Pharma spent $90 million on print advertising. The dietary supplement industry spends far less: $20 million on print advertising in 2010. Due to the FDA and FTC’s overzealous regulation of health claims and gag orders on dietary supplement advertising, there’s little incentive for supplement companies to advertise their products and anyway they have far less money with which to do so.

Given the rapid decline of the industry, newspapers are facing increasing competition for advertising dollars; a pharmaceutical company miffed by an anti-drug NYT article could take their massive advertising budget elsewhere, whereas an article that bashes dietary supplements would be looked upon favorably. After all, drug companies are so scared of “competition” from dietary supplements that they’re beginning to swallow up small supplement companies!

For the NYT, the choice between attacking dietary supplements or dangerous drugs is easy. Given the media’s aversion to the truth about natural health, the importance of grassroots advocacy like yours grows daily. Please don’t stop taking action and sharing the truth with your friends and family—ANH-USA and the natural health community is depending on you!

Action Alert! Ask the New York Times to protect the public, save lives, and correct their misleading, anti-supplement article by giving at least equal coverage to Tylenol and acetaminophen. Please take action today!


  • sheila eckel

    Hello appreciate your hard work so much! You may be aware but apparently there was an article on Kale and hypothyroidism in the NY Times that is also not accurate- seems like they are no longer the cleaner side of delivering informative news!


  • Philip Koster

    your misrepresentation regarding the true cause of death from liver damage as attributable to supplements has caused trouble in “river city”. Report the truth regarding acetaminophen’s role in the liver damage that results in death due to liver damage in 85% of cases. It is not the supplements, you know.
    You’ve been bought and you have lost credibility with this “yellow” journalism.

  • Get out of bed with the drug cos.

  • Ana

    The “Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids” article is THE MOST BS article I have EVER, EVER read about supplements! I mean, this is CLEARLY an attempt to assist Durbin’s will to ban all supplements made after 1994. Now, they have this journalist in their back pocket?

    I mean, wake up everyone…put the pieces of the puzzle together…Drug companies + mega millions spent in ads on major publications (not to mention TV, radio, etc) + FDA…ALL in cahoots together…?

    This is not only TERRIBLE journalism; it’s a clear vision into how the big corporations, the government, the FDA are getting deeper in bed with the journalists. I wonder what the bribe rate is these days?

  • This kind of biased reporting against natural supplements has been going on forever.

    It reminds me of when NBC News attacked colloidal silver, claiming erroneously it had dangerous safety issues (see, when in reality it has one of the safest toxicological profiles of all supplements when used responsibly.

    I note also in the New York Times article that they use weasel words like “liver injury” when they make the claim that “nearly 20%” of liver injuries are from supplements. The term “liver injury” can mean anything. If your liver enzyme levels are shown to be high after you’ve had a blood test, and the doctor asks you “Are you taking any nutritional supplements?” and you say yeah, I’m taking such-and-so supplements, it ends up getting reported as “liver injury due to nutritional supplements.” The doctors don’t even bother to ask if you were taking Tylenol or other drugs, or were drinking, etc.

    The article is very cleverly and deceptively worded. But if you read it carefully, line by line, you’ll see it’s much ado about nothing. Instead of backing up the claims with factual data, they use rank hyperbole to scare the bejabbers out of people and make them think nutritional supplements are dangerous to the liver.

    For example, they quote Dr. Herbert L. Bonkovsky as saying, “It’s really the Wild West…When people buy these dietary supplements, it’s anybody’s guess as to what they’re getting.”

    But really? The ingredients are right on the label. And supplements have to be manufactured in FDA-approved and inspected GMP (Good Manufacturing Processes) laboratories. So that statement is a complete falsehood, unless somebody is buying supplements from some shady character out in the alley behind the local body building gym.

    To the author’s credit, he does slip in the following line, buried deep within the article, which is probably one of the only completely truthful lines in the entire article, “Most of the liver injuries tracked by a network of medical officials are caused by prescription drugs used to treat things like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, he said.”

    So I have to ask, why wasn’t THAT the headline of the article? Would’t it have been far more truthful to have an article titled “Most Liver Injuries Caused by Prescription Drugs” which could have included a short sentence buried somewhere deep inside…

    • Nick

      Yes Steve, along with another peculiar contrast in the author’s writing:

      Early on: “While many patients recover once they stop taking the supplements and receive treatment, a few require liver transplants or die because of liver failure,”

      Toward the end: “But liver injuries attributed to herbal supplements are more likely to be severe and to result in liver transplants, Dr. Navarro said.

      “a few” doesn’t square with “more likely.” Where was the motivation to pare out or reconcile these statements?

      And, one asks, more likely than what?

  • Suzanne

    There’s an excellent pain reliever that I take that has none of the harmful ingredients in Tylenol or Advil for that matter and it works wonderfully and is actually very, very healthful and made with supplements . It’s called HealnSoothe. Unfortunately, it wasn’t made by Big Pharma but made by a small organization interested in helping people! Imagine that!!!

  • Jan

    What supplements caused 15-20% of liver damage?

  • Dawn Hill

    Hello. In 2003 I was diagnosed with enormously elevated liver enzymes (Wow! Does that ever make you sick!) found to be the result of PRESCRIBED maximum dose acetaminophen, combined with two prescription drugs over a long period of time. The prescribing doctors kept telling me not to drink, and cranking up the doses until they nearly killed me. Needless to say, they are not the ones who found the problem, and “drinking” had nothing to do with it! Just having an MD after one’s name does not make one a god.