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The Dangers of Acetaminophen

By TJ Williams, DC, PhD

We recently discussed the problems with ibuprofen, which had many people thinking they would just reach for acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, instead. However, before you do so, it’s important to note that acetaminophen has its own problems.

Acetaminophen is an OTC analgesic consumed in the United States in massive quantities. Each week, approximately 23 percent of American adults pop an acetaminophen-containing medicine. Unfortunately, few understand how harmful this common pain-relief drug may be.

If you’re planning on parenthood, take note: The effects of prenatal acetaminophen use by women and men on the health of their children are of special concern. When women take acetaminophen before becoming pregnant or during pregnancy, they may significantly increase their baby’s risk of developing childhood asthma, ADHD, autism, a reduced IQ, behavioral problems, language delay, impaired executive function, and cerebral palsy. (In animal studies, female mice exposed to acetaminophen/paracetamol gave birth to female offspring with dysfunctional reproductive systems.) Paternal preconception acetaminophen use for eight or more days is also associated with ADHD in children. Acetaminophen increases the risk of these conditions by decreasing glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, thus leaving the fetal respiratory system and brain vulnerable to oxidative stress.

Acetaminophen use during early childhood may also be harmful. The use of acetaminophen in babies between the ages of 12 and 18 months increases the risk of autism spectrum disorder eight-fold. In adults, acetaminophen may blunt emotions and empathy, indicating that it has adverse neurobehavioral effects well beyond pregnancy and childhood.
Acetaminophen is also toxic to the liver and kidneys. Over half of all acute liver failure cases are caused by acetaminophen overdose. Acetaminophen causes liver damage by increasing the permeability of the gut, allowing inflammatory bacteria to move from the gut into the liver. The current recommended maximum dose for acetaminophen of 4,000 mg per day is capable of inducing liver damage, as indicated by elevations in the liver enzyme ALT, after just four days.

Last but not least, acetaminophen increases the risk of kidney and blood cancers. While the mechanism is not well understood, a potential explanation is that acetaminophen is a metabolite of phenacetin, a known (and now banned) carcinogen.

So the next time you think about taking acetaminophen, maybe pause and consider whether it is worth it.

If you would like more information regarding any of the treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at the theinstituteofnaturalhealth.com. Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 2:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1.

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