Okay, I do understand why people take Tylenol. If you’re in unbearable pain and have a sensitive stomach it’s the over-the-counter drug of choice. But avoiding Tylenol when at all possible isn’t just about liver damage anymore; it’s also about years of recalls.This week is the anniversary of the 1982 Tylenol poisonings in Chicago that killed six people and created the biggest drug recall in history, but more notable on this anniversary are the Tylenol-related deaths and Tylenol recalls since then.
The generic name for Tylenol is acetaminophen in North America and paracetamol in the rest of the world.
Tylenol-Related Recalls made by Johnson & Johnson and/or their Subsidiary McNeil Consumer
2003: The FDA finds a labeling problem with children’s soft-chew Tylenol and the mislabeled products are destroyed but no recall is issued.
2004: Children’s Motrin is found to contain an adult dose of extended release Tylenol.
2005: The FDA finds more mislabeling in various forms of children’s Tylenol that could lead to an overdose and liver damage.
2007: Infant Tylenol cough and cold products are voluntarily recalled due to “mislabeling” because they are not appropriate for children under the age of 2 (e.g. infants).
2008: “Consultants” to Johnson & Johnson attempt to buy up lots of defective Motrin without telling the FDA. (same maker as Tylenol)
2009: Millions of bottles of Tylenol Arthritis Pain are recalled due to a moldy smell.
2009: Numerous types of children’s and infant’s Tylenol are recalled due to bacterial contamination.
2010 – Six recalls of dozens of products, including various forms of Tylenol and Rolaids, Benadryl and Sinutab. The May 1 FDA notice states, “Some of the products included in the recall may contain a higher concentration of active ingredient than specified; others contain inactive ingredients that may not meet internal testing requirements; and others may contain tiny particles.”
2011: So far this year, somewhere around 10 recalls of McNeil/Johnson & Johnson products, including more of various forms of Tylenol.
The above may even be an incomplete list, but the pattern is clear. Yes, other pharmaceutical giants have regular product recalls, but the consistent recalls of children’s and infant’s Tylenol products over the years is, well, disturbing. And keep in mind that McNeil Consumer also manufactures generic brands of Tylenol (acetaminophen) so you can’t avoid these products by looking for their name on packaging.
Tylenol Side Effects
In addition to chronic contamination, mislabeling and other symptoms of corporate sociopathy, Tylenol in-and-of-itself is a dangerous drug, and the leading cause of acute (sudden onset) liver failure in the U.S. The fact that it’s the most popular over-the-counter painkiller in the U.S. is a perfect example of the power of marketing. If the public truly understood how easily this drug can cause permanent liver damage, liver failure and death, most sensible people would avoid it. It is estimated that acetaminophen poisoning results in 56,000 injuries, 25,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths every year.
Research suggests that acetaminophen inflicts most of its damage on the liver by blocking the production of the important antioxidant glutathione. Without glutathione, the liver’s ability to break down toxins for elimination is impaired. According to a rodent study published in the journal, Free Radical Biology & Medicine, one hour after an injection of acetaminophen, glutathione levels decrease as much as 83 percent! That is a vulnerable liver. If some type of stress is placed on the liver (i.e. alcohol, pesticides, other drugs) at the same time the acetaminophen hits it, the damage could be considerable.
In a normal person, an overdose of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. But for those whose liver is already compromised by prescription drugs or excess alcohol for example, it wouldn’t take an overdose to cause liver damage. Acetaminophen overdose has become such a popular way to commit suicide in Great Britain that there are restrictions on how much can be bought at once. One common cause of acetaminophen overdose is mixing medications that contain the painkiller. For example, the prescription painkillers Percocet and Vicodin contain high doses of acetaminophen, but many people aren’t aware of that fact. Another risky combination is acetaminophen and blood thinners. Acetaminophen’s ability to impair the liver, even in prescribed doses, makes it potentially dangerous to combine with any other prescription drug and/or alcohol.
Most emergency rooms use N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and/or alpha-lipoic acid to treat liver damage caused by acetaminophen poisoning. Both are available over-the-counter and can be found at your local health food store.
A British study published in the April 2000 issue of the journal Thorax links the use of acetaminophen to asthma and rhinitis (a chronically stuffy nose). Those who used acetaminophen daily or even weekly not only had more asthma and stuffy noses, they had more severe bouts of asthma. There has been a 500 percent increase in asthma among children over the past few decades, not to mention the chronic and painful ear infections that so many infants and toddlers suffer from (which can be caused or exacerbated by sinus congestion). Is there a connection? Various forms of children’s Tylenol can be found in the medicine cabinets of most families in the U.S. Many parents use the combinations of children’s Tylenol and diphenhydramine (e.g. Benadryl) to get cranky kids to sleep. (See More Info link below for more reasons why this isn’t a good idea.)
Bottom line, Tylenol should be a drug of last resort, acetaminophen in general should be a drug of next-t0-last resort.
Arnaiz SL et al, “Oxidative stress by acute acetaminophen administration in mouse liver,” Free Radical Biology and Medicine Volume 19, Issue 3, September 1995, Pages 303-310.