If You Use Tylenol You MUST Read This
Tylenol has been on the market for over 60 years, and has been available over the counter for nearly as long.
What started out as a prescription pain reliever for children became, by 1976, the best-selling OTC pain reliever in the country. Since then it's been knocked out of the top slot by the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories—ibuprofen and naproxen—but it still ranks in the top four for OTC pain reliever sales. It's the one analgesic that pregnant women are allowed to take in the U.S. It's one of the safest, most effective pain relievers we have. Right?
Not so fast. Tylenol is just a brand name for acetaminophen. And it's actually not terribly safe at all. Of course we already knew that. Just a small overdose of Tylenol can cause liver damage. Tylenol has been sending people to the hospital and even the morgue for years. But new research suggests that not only is it little better than a placebo for many types of pain, it may also have a chilling effect on your brain.
Tylenol is useless for many types of pain
For years, Tylenol has been the first recommendation for many kinds of pain, including low back pain and pain from osteoarthritis. But last year, Australian researchers did a meta-study of earlier trials and found that this advice is completely misguided. They looked at 13 earlier studies that included over 5,000 people in total. What they found was somewhat shocking. It appears that for back pain, knee and hip arthritis, Tylenol was no better than a placebo. It did, however, quadruple the risk of abnormal liver function.
We've known that Tylenol is a dangerous drug for a very long time. It's the number one reason for calls to Poison Control each year. It's responsible for half the cases of acute liver failure in the country. No matter how popular it is as an OTC or how often it's recommended, it's not a terribly safe drug. It sends about 60,000 people to the ER annually, and it doesn't take much to overdose. Now new research shows that it may affect more than your liver, and in ways we never imagined.
Tylenol might numb your brain as well as your pain
Some recent research has shown that Tylenol might work better as a psychological painkiller than as a physical one. Because a typical dose of Tylenol doesn't just kill headache pain. It also kills emotional pain. And researchers aren't just relying on participants' reports of their own feelings—they're looking at brain scans that show them exactly what parts of the brain are affected. People taking Tylenol for three weeks had a reduced reaction to emotional pain, which might be a good thing if it weren't for the other brain changes it causes.
Like this: it appears to change the way you make moral judgements. Specifically, it seems to soften your judgement or blunt your sense of morality. And it makes you less likely to notice when you make errors—in judgement or in any other situation, like choosing the red button when you're told to choose the green one. Plus, it also seems to make you more prone to errors in the first place.
But the spookiest effect is this: while it seems to blunt emotional pain and make it more bearable, it appears to have an equally profound effect on positive emotions. And I don't mean in a good way. In the studies that have been completed, Tylenol seems to reduce feelings of happiness as much as it dulls emotional pain. Of course the people studying this effect are promoting it as another way to treat anxiety rather than looking at the harm of dampening down positive emotions. They're also avoiding some important questions, such as:
- What kind of effect does this have on creativity?
- Does it blunt imagination like it dulls emotions?
- And most importantly—what other effects might it have on the brain that we don't know about yet?
There are better alternatives than Tylenol for anxiety. There are also better alternatives for pain, especially the types of pain it's most often recommended for. If you're a regular Tylenol user, here are some pain-relieving alternatives to try:
- For headaches – try lavender and peppermint essential oils. Mix 5 drops lavender oil and 3 drops peppermint oil into a half teaspoon of carrier oil such as coconut oil. Apply to the temples at the first sign of a headache. Take care not to get it near your eyes, though, as peppermint is extremely irritating.
If you have chronic headaches or migraines, both massage therapy and chiropractic can be the answer, but for everyday headaches essential oils are often as effective as OTC pain relievers.
- For muscle aches and pains – creams or lotions containing arnica can be very effective.
- For low back pain – massage therapy is extremely beneficial for low back pain. Choose a massage therapist who is trained in deep tissue or medical massage. While spa massage feels nice and is good for circulation, deep tissue is the way to go for back pain.
- For arthritis pain – there are a variety of non-drug pain treatments for osteoarthritis. Glucosamine supplements appear to be one of the most effective. Not only does glucosamine reduce pain, it also improves function in the affected joint. But don't expect overnight results—you may need to take it for several weeks before you begin to see the effects.
If you choose to try glucosamine, stick to oral supplements. Although there are creams that contain the substance, there's no evidence that these are helpful.
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