What is Paracetamol?
Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen or Tylenol, is one of the most common drugs used worldwide as a painkiller to treat aches and pain in the body.
Typical uses include the treatment of headaches, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, arthritis, backache, toothaches, colds, and fevers.
Most of us have taken paracetamol at least once in our life and many pop a pill on a regular basis without really thinking twice about it.
Though generally recognized as safe there are some real health risks associated with the use of paracetamol, even at moderate doses and with regular consumption.
The effects of Paracetamol no one is telling you
Overdose of paracetamol is known as the most common cause of acute liver failure (1).
According to Health Canada, approximately 4500 hospitalizations in Canada each year are due to acetaminophen overdose. And in 6% of hospitalizations for overdose, liver injuries as well as acute liver failure can develop.
A study found 4 grams of paracetamol use per day was associated with an increase in elevated serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT), a marker of liver inflammation (2).
Paracetamol is said to promote liver damage by depleting levels of glutathione and damaging tissue and cells of the liver (3).
Supplementation of N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), as well as curcumin, has been shown to decrease toxicity associated with higher doses of the drug (4)(5).
Longer-term use of paracetamol has been shown to harm the gut by increasing intestinal permeability but also the risk of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract (6).
Paracetamol is also associated with digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain/discomfort, heartburn, nausea and vomiting (7).
The overuse of pain medications can negatively impact the kidneys in particular. In fact, according to the National Kidney Foundation, "3 to 5 percent of new cases of chronic kidney failure each year may be caused by the overuse of these painkillers"(8).
Studies show frequent and heavier use of the drug paracetamol can increase the risk of developing end-stage renal disease (9). These risks increase by over twofold when alcohol is combined alongside paracetamol use compared to on its own (10).
This over the counter painkiller may also have an effect on neurodevelopment but also on emotions and cognitive function.
Researchers found individuals using paracetamol to be more error-prone due to the inhibition of conscious awareness (11).
Emotional response has also been shown to be altered with the use of this drug, as a 2010 study showed patients were more apathetic in response to positive stimuli and less responsive to emotional pain (12)(13).
Due to its role as an endocrine disruptor and its ability to cross the placenta during pregnancy, paracetamol can also affect offspring.
The use of this painkiller during pregnancy may influence fetal brain development and increase the risk of developing conditions such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children (14). A study done in Norway found that longer exposure to paracetamol increased the risk of children being diagnosed with ADHD (15).
Serious skin conditions, though very rare, associated with the use of paracetamol include Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, and acute generalized exanthematous pustulosis (16). These conditions can lead to serious infections and in some cases hospitalization.
Alternatives to Paracetamol
There are many natural alternatives to paracetamol that can be just as effective or in certain cases more effective without the potential side effects.
This can be particularly important if using painkillers on a regular basis and at higher doses.
While it depends on what you are using the drug for, natural painkillers that have been shown to be just as effective as pharmaceuticals in certain cases include:
Ginger: particularly beneficial for alleviating cramps associated with menstruation, ginger is an anti-inflammatory spice that has been shown to actually outperform NSAIDS in decreasing menstrual pain (17).
In addition, ginger is well known for its antinausea effects and it also has demonstrated the ability to decrease pain and swelling associated with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis (18).
Boswellia: also known by the name of frankincense, this anti-inflammatory herb has been utilized within Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as a natural painkiller. It has been shown to benefit patients suffering from conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and dysmenorrhea (19).
Curcumin: the active ingredient found in the herb turmeric, curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory that can be taken in supplement form to reduce pain associated with inflammation in the body such as arthritis, even reporting similar improvements to drugs such as ibuprofen (20).
Always be careful when taking any sort of medication or supplement and discontinue use if side effects or reactions occur. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your health care routine.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.