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Acetaminophen and the liver

Protect your liver from pain killers

Acetaminophen is the most commonly used over the counter pain killer.  In the USA the most common brand name of acetaminophen is Tylenol.  In Australia, Europe and most western nations the drug is known as paracetamol and the most common brand name is Panadol.

Acetaminophen is widely available; you can buy it in the supermarket or gas station.  It is also found in many different pharmaceutical products, such as cold and flu tablets, arthritis tablets, sinus products and even sleeping tablets.  But just because you can easily buy it, doesn’t mean it is safe.  In fact acetaminophen toxicity is the most common cause of acute liver toxicity in the western world.  If you take too much of it, it can kill you.  However, new research has shown that if used regularly over many years, acetaminophen increases your risk of developing certain blood cancers.

Research published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology studied a total of 64,839 men and women aged between 50 and 76 years.  Results showed that regular use of acetaminophen was associated with an almost two fold increased risk of certain blood cancers including myeloid cancers, non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and plasma cell disorders.  Regular use was defined as four days or more per week for at least four years.  A lot of our patients use much more acetaminophen than this.

The effects of acetaminophen on the liver have been known for many years.  Most people consider acetaminophen to be a safe and innocuous drug, but in fact taking too much of it can give you permanent liver damage.  It is extremely easy to take too much because the drug is found in so many varied products.  As a general rule, adults should not exceed 4000 mg of acetaminophen per day.  If you commonly take several pharmaceutical medications, make sure you check if they contain acetaminophen in order to avoid over dosing.  If you regularly drink alcohol, acetaminophen can do more harm to your liver and you shouldn't take as much of it.  If you have a chronic health problem or liver condition, you may be more likely to experience adverse health effects from acetaminophen.

How to protect your liver

Your liver already has to deal with a vast number of chemicals, toxins and possibly viruses on a daily basis.  Chronic use of medication places an additional strain on your liver.  Here are some tips to help you:

  • Try to avoid long term use of pain relieving medication.  These drugs are designed for short term use, such as pain resulting from injuries, or fever due to acute illness.  These drugs can make your day bearable if you are in intense pain, but it is vital to address the cause of the pain too.  See your doctor if pain persists, in order to get to the bottom of it.
  • Acetaminophen needs to get broken down in your liver and it depletes your body of glutathione in that process.  You need selenium in order to manufacture glutathione.  Therefore anyone who takes medication containing acetaminophen must obtain sufficient selenium in their diet.  It is difficult to get selenium from food because many areas of the world have selenium deficient soils.  Brazil nuts contain selenium and Selenium Complete tablets provide 200 mcg of selenium per tablet.
  • Eat well every day.  What you eat each day has a far greater impact on your health than a detox you undergo once or twice a year.  Try to follow the healthy eating principles in The Liver Cleansing Diet book.
  • Reduce foods and substances that increase inflammation in your body.  Inflammation increases pain and that makes you more likely to require analgesics.  Substances that increase inflammation include alcohol, sugar, red meat, dairy products, wheat and any food you are allergic to.
  • Find natural ways to improve your sleep.  Many people take acetaminophen containing medication to help them sleep.  If you regularly take over the counter sleeping aids, check the label carefully to see if they contain acetaminophen.  A number of strategies can help you sleep. I have covered them in detail in my book Tired of Not Sleeping.
  • You may need a good liver tonic.  Many of our patients have a chronic liver disease such as fatty liver or hepatitis, and they live in a polluted city, their diet is far from perfect and they take several medications.  That is expecting too much of your liver!  A good liver tonic like Livatone Plus provides the nutrients your liver needs in order to carry out detoxification more efficiently.

References

Journal of Clinical Oncology, May 9, 2011
Khashab M, Tector AJ, Kwo PY (March 2007). “Epidemiology of acute liver failure”. Curr Gastroenterol Rep 9 (1): 66–73

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.

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