Over-the-counter Pain Reliever Reduces Your Empathy, and Other Reasons to Avoid Taking It

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  • It’s a common misconception that if a medicine is available without a prescription, it’s not that strong or risky.
  • Studies in the last few years show that the popular over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen (leading brand Tylenol) dulls not only your physical pain, but also dulls your emotional connection with others.
  • The medical community is well aware of liver problems, even liver problems that lead to death, from acetaminophen.
  • Here’s what to use instead, and what to do to protect yourself if there’s no way around taking it.

It’s a common misconception that if a medicine is available without a prescription, it’s not that strong or risky. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The most popular pain reliever and fever reducer, acetaminophen, affects your liver and even reduces your ability to emotionally connect with others.

Keep reading to find out why acetaminophen is a powerful and potentially dangerous drug that comes with plenty of risks, what to take instead, and how to protect yourself if you absolutely must have acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen and empathy

A handful of studies in the last few years show that the popular over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen (leading brand Tylenol) dulls not only your physical pain, but also dulls your emotional connection with others.

One study showed that acetaminophen reduced empathy in rats,[1]
and a human study showed that it reduced positive empathy, which is the happiness you feel when something good happens to someone else.[2] Another human study showed that acetaminophen reduced trusting behaviors in others.[3] Empathy and relationships are a huge part of being human, and it’s alarming to think that a common medicine that people take for a headache essentially takes away a part of your soul.

Scientists have identified that chronic acetaminophen use changes serotonin receptors and depletes serotonin itself.[4][5][6] Since serotonin is a major player in happiness and empathy,[7] not having enough could be causing hiccups in your ability to connect with people.

Acetaminophen and liver toxicity

Human connection isn’t the only reason to break up with acetaminophen. The medical community is well aware of liver problems, even liver problems that lead to death, from acetaminophen.[8]

Liver problems from acetaminophen aren’t just from overdosing. Researchers found higher toxicity and death from people who used acetaminophen over a long period, as compared to people who took mega-doses of acetaminophen to harm themselves.[9] This is likely because patients who overdosed got immediate medical attention, while long-term misuse of compounded negative effects over the long term without taking measures to counteract it.

Acetaminophen depletes glutathione in your liver, which is known as the “master antioxidant” that your body makes on board. You’re more susceptible to liver injury by acetaminophen if you drink alcohol frequently.[10][11][12] Alcohol depletes your glutathione, and if you’re taking acetaminophen on top of that, you’re tanking your levels to dangerous lows.

Your body uses glutathione to protect your brain, your heart, your eyes, and more. Here’s a complete guide to glutathione and why you want to keep your levels up.

What to take instead of acetaminophen

melatonin sleep supplements

Even when you’re Bulletproof, you’ll still run into instances when you need a pain reliever. Here’s are some things to try before you reach for over-the-counter meds.

Curcumin or turmeric

Curcumin is the active compound in bright-yellow turmeric root. Studies show that curcumin blocks the production of inflammatory cells[13] which can help cut down on pain. You can read more about curcumin here.

RELATED: Natural Pain Relief Methods that Work

White willow bark

White willow bark has been used traditionally as a pain reliever, then fell out of practice when pharmaceutical companies started making pain medicines instead. You can’t patent a plant, so the earliest chemists made synthetic versions of the active compounds in medicinal plants, in order to profit from them. Back in the 1800s, the chemist who founded Bayer invented aspirin by creating a synthetic form of salicin, the active compound in white willow bark.

Liquid naproxen

If you absolutely have to have a pain reliever, liquid naproxen is the easiest one for your body to bounce back from. Work with a doctor when you use it, and keep it short-term.

What to do when you absolutely have to take acetaminophen

scarlet fever

There are rare instances when your doctor will tell you that there’s no way around taking acetaminophen. That doesn’t mean your liver, serotonin, and empathy are doomed — but protecting yourself is crucial while you’re taking it. Here’s what to do.

Vitamin C

If you have an illness or injury that requires acetaminophen, your body probably needs extra vitamin C anyway. Vitamin C, like glutathione, can protect all of your cells, including liver cells, from oxidative damage during times of high stress and infection.

Glutathione

Acetaminophen depletes glutathione, so most functional medicine doctors will increase your glutathione stores before treatment and support your body’s ability to make glutathione during the course of treatment. They do this by having patients take n-acetylcysteine (NAC) or a liposomal glutathione supplement before and during treatment with acetaminophen.

In one study, researchers found that NAC didn’t increase glutathione but it did increase the liver’s ability to make glutathione when the demand increased like it does when you take acetaminophen.[14]

Curcumin

Research shows that curcumin protects against acetaminophen-induced liver and kidney damage in rats, and that using curcumin along with glutathione had a synergistic protective effect.[15] That means, the effects of both together were larger than the combined effects of both used separately.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is a plant with an active compound called silymarin that has been shown to protect the liver against oxidative stress.[16][17]

After acetaminophen

A case study showed that after stopping acetaminophen, your liver function returns to normal.[18] Glutathione and things that help your body make glutathione would help get your glutathione stores back up and speed up that process.

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