Updated: Oct 29
Acetaminophen is the number one suggested over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, is a medication used to alleviate mild to moderate pain from ailments such as headaches, muscle aches, menstrual cramps, colds, sore throats, toothaches, backaches, and fevers. This may seem great, but do you know the cost of the relief?
Many people fail to realize that although acetaminophen may be FDA-approved, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a safe option. In 1950, when acetaminophen was first FDA-approved, it was only available with a prescription (1).
Acetaminophen was approved when they'd give a large dose (in a short period) and see if it was lethal. If not, it was considered "safe." It wasn’t until the 1960s that the FDA started requiring clinical reviews (2). Medications like acetaminophen didn't go through modern safety tests, which are sometimes still inadequate. Some experts believe it wouldn’t be granted if it were up for new approval today.
Natural Alternatives for Acetaminophen
Dangers Of Acetaminophen
Acetaminophen is a pain killer linked to an increased risk of health problems when used long-term or in larger doses. Although acetaminophen is considered “safer” than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), there are still many risks associated with this over-the-counter medication (3).
Damages The Liver & Kidneys
Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of calls to poison control centers in the United States, responsible for more than 56,000 emergency room visits and 2,600 hospitalizations. Acetaminophen is responsible for about 500 deaths yearly due to acute liver failure (4). Additionally, over half of all acute liver failure cases in the United States are due to acetaminophen overdoses (5). One study found that heavier use of acetaminophen was associated with an increased risk of end-stage renal disease (6). End-stage renal disease, or kidney disease, occurs when there's a gradual loss of kidney function or chronic kidney disease (7). Yet the Tylenol website claims:
"TYLENOL® does not affect kidney function the way that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin (Bayer®), naproxen sodium (Aleve®), and ibuprofen (Advil®, MOTRIN® IB) can (8)."
Depletes Levels of Glutathione
The body’s master antioxidant, glutathione (9), is often diminished when you take acetaminophen due to toxin buildup and liver damage (10). Glutathione helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. The buildup of free radicals has been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease (11). Interestingly, immediate administration of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), the precursor to glutathione, can prevent mortality from acetaminophen toxicity (12).
Several recent studies have also highlighted the influence of acetaminophen and cardiometabolic risk. Cardiometabolic risk is a person's chance of having a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke (13). One study found that individuals taking opiates (some containing acetaminophen) were 95 percent more likely to be obese and 63 percent more likely to have hypertension (14).
Linked to Cancer
Researchers have also found an association between acetaminophen and cancer. A meta-analysis of epidemiological studies found that acetaminophen was associated with a significantly increased risk of kidney cancer (15). This risk is quite shocking since, according to Tylenol's website:
"The National Kidney Foundation recommends acetaminophen, the active ingredient in TYLENOL®, as the pain reliever of choice for occasional use in patients that have underlying kidney disease (8)."
Yet, according to Moffitt Cancer Center:
"Now acetaminophen is making headlines because California regulators are considering labeling it a carcinogen. It is part of the state’s Proposition 65 law requiring California to warn consumers of any products known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm (16)."
Affects Emotional Processing
Researchers at Ohio State University wanted to determine if acetaminophen affected emotional processing. They found that participants who took acetaminophen:
“...evaluated unpleasant stimuli less negatively and pleasant stimuli less positively, compared with participants who took a placebo (17)."
In other words, both negative and positive stimuli were less emotionally arousing to people who had taken acetaminophen. This means acetaminophen could affect an individual’s evaluative and emotional processing, irrespective of negative or positive valence. Another study found that acetaminophen influences behavioral and neural measures of cognitive control and emotional processes (18). A final study found acetaminophen reduced empathy for pleasurable experiences in people (19).
May Have Neurodevelopmental Consequences During Pregnancy
Acetaminophen is currently marketed as safe during pregnancy. However, acetaminophen use may have neurodevelopmental consequences for the fetus. A study followed more than 2,000 mother-child pairs from the first trimester of pregnancy and performed several behavior tests when the children were about five years old. The study concluded the following:
Prenatal acetaminophen exposure was associated with a greater number of autism spectrum symptoms in males and showed adverse effects on attention-related outcomes for both genders. These associations seem to be dependent on the frequency of exposure (20).
Better yet, according to mainstream source, WebMD:
“New research shows that women who took acetaminophen, best known as Tylenol, at the end of their pregnancies were much more likely to have child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism (21)."
Linked to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
Acetaminophen is also linked to rare but severe skin reactions such as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. These reactions can be fatal. Between 1969 and 2012, there were 107 such cases, of which 67 required hospitalization, and 12 people died. In 2013, the FDA issued a warning and mandated that skin reactions be listed on acetaminophen-containing drug labels as a potential adverse effect (22). Exactly how acetaminophen causes these potentially fatal skin reactions is supposedly unknown. What's particularly alarming is that skin reactions can occur even if you’ve taken acetaminophen in the past without any problems.
Acetaminophen is an endocrine disruptor. An animal study found that rats who received acetaminophen had female offspring with fewer eggs, smaller ovaries, and smaller litters when they reached reproductive age. Male offspring had fewer sperm progenitor cells early in life, but these returned to normal by adulthood. Particularly concerning was the effect it had on the next generation. Granddaughters of the rats given acetaminophen were also found to have smaller ovaries and stunted reproductive functionality (23).
Linked To Asthma
Researchers have established an affiliation between acetaminophen and asthma. A systematic review and meta-analysis discovered that the probability of asthma increased with previous acetaminophen use in both adults and children (24). Moreover, prenatal exposure to acetaminophen also heightened the risk of asthma in the child, possibly due to increased oxidative stress during prepregnancy (25).
Natural Alternatives For Acetaminophen
Now that you know the risks, the question is, what can we use instead? The answer to that question depends on why you want to use it.
There are probably hundreds of reasons why people take acetaminophen. It's recommended so much that our culture almost sees it as a cure-all drug. With everything I know about this drug’s risks, I can't even entertain the thought of taking it.
My go-to alternatives for acetaminophen are herb-based. I like to focus on herbs like arnica, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, peppermint, and cannabinoids. Some of my recommended acetaminophen alternatives include the following:
Earthley’s Anti-Inflammatory helps to calm the body, reduce inflammation, and provide immune support. It can even help improve your mood!
Earthley’s CBD Oil is cannabidiol. Cannabidiol has been linked to helping reduce headaches, migraines, pain, and more. We need real support for our immune systems, adrenals, and overall wellness — and there’s nothing better for total-body support than CBD Oil.
Earthley’s Feel Better Fast is unlike conventional remedies, which suppress symptoms and fight against the body. Feel Fetter Fast gently works with it, easing symptoms but allowing the body to work through the illness naturally to support the immune system, reduce inflammation, and settle upset tummies.
Earthley’s Good Night Lotion is a magnesium lotion most known for helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Besides promoting restful sleep, it relieves occasional constipation, leg and muscle cramps, headaches, and more.
Earthley‘s Pain Potion was formulated explicitly with headaches and migraines in mind, but it can also help with inflammation, swelling, fevers, body aches, and pains.