There are few of us who are not aware of the opioid drug crisis in our countries, but there are also side effects associated with some over the counter medication that nearly all of us will have in our bathroom cabinet. Often taking daily for chronic pain but certainly for several days at a time for acute pain.
How often do we reach for the paracetamol when we have a headache, migraine, aches and pains, influenza, PMS and toothache?
Recent research has highlighted a side effect that I believe is also feeding into the pain medication crisis we are facing. Because of the region of the brain that painkillers target.
I followed up on this recent post to check on the findings and was stunned by what I discovered. Daily Mail – Paracetamol and Empathy
- The world’s most popular painkiller, taken by millions every day, blunts physical pain by reducing the flow of chemicals that make nerve endings sensitive.
- But research suggests these chemicals circulate in brain regions that also control empathy and compassion.
- Dominik Mischkowski, a psychologist at Ohio University, believes paracetamol, or acetaminophen, warp people’s personalities by dulling their emotions.
What interested me was that according to some sites… they don’t actually know definitively how paracetamol (acetaminophen) works. It is thought to suppress the activity of ‘pain messengers’ called prostaglandins in the central nervous system. This is assumed because of the relief that is felt wherever in the body the pain is situated. This implies that the pain messengers, sent to the brain to warn of danger to the body have been blocked.
If you read the insert for the various generic names for acetaminophen such as paracetamol, Panadol, Tylenol and Calpol for children, side effects are listed as rare but do include the following.
- Reduction in levels of key blood cells including neutrophils that are essential white blood cells in immune system function
- Also low level of platelets in the blood which are necessary for blood clotting.
However more concerning is the evidence that long term use of acetaminophen pain relieve can lead to toxicity and damage to the liver.
And one of the reasons for this is that the drug has so many uses and is available under various generic names.
So you have a muscle pain, you begin to suffer from a cold and you suffer from insomnia and you take the ‘safe’ dosage of three different medications. However you are now running the risk of toxicity and liver damage.
Whilst acetaminophen has not been associated before with addiction, when it is combined with other medication it produces a high. American Addiction Centres
More potent forms of acetaminophen, however, such as Tylenol 3, can only be obtained through a doctor’s prescription, as it also contains a significant amount of codeine, another painkilling drug. Acetaminophen alone is not particularly habit-forming, but the codeine in Tylenol 3 can lead to dependency.
The codeine in Tylenol 3 can cause feelings of euphoria, which leads some people to misuse the drug. Tylenol 3 has also been shown to enhance the effects of other drugs, such as narcotics, alcohol, general anesthetics, tranquilizers, sedative-hypnotics, and other central nervous system depressants. Combining acetaminophen with any of these drugs increases the risk of experiencing the adverse side effects of each drug.
However, research would indicate that acetaminophen on its own, can impact the same part of the brain that is involved with our social interaction and impacting our ability to feel empathy National Library of Medicine
Acetaminophen – a potent physical painkiller that also reduces empathy for other people’s suffering – blunts physical and social pain by reducing activation in brain areas (i.e. anterior insula and anterior cingulate) thought to be related to emotional awareness and motivation. Some neuroimaging research on positive empathy (i.e., the perception and sharing of positive affect in other people) suggests that the experience of positive empathy also recruits these paralimbic cortical brain areas.
We thus hypothesized that acetaminophen may also impair affective processes related to the experience of positive empathy. We tested this hypothesis in a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment. Specifically, we administered 1,000 mg acetaminophen or a placebo and measured effects on different measures of positive empathy while participants read scenarios about the uplifting experiences of other people.
Results showed that acetaminophen reduced personal pleasure and other-directed empathic feelings in response to these scenarios. In contrast, effects on perceived positivity of the described experiences or perceived pleasure in scenario protagonists were not significant. These findings suggest that (1) acetaminophen reduces affective reactivity to other people’s positive experiences and (2) the experience of physical pain and positive empathy may have a more similar neurochemical basis than previously assumed. Because the experience of positive empathy is related to prosocial behavior, our findings also raise questions about the societal impact of excessive acetaminophen consumption.
How many paracetamol painkillers should we be taking?
You should not take more than eight 500gm paracetamol within a 24 hour period.
Check all other medication you are taking to ensure that you are not ingesting acetaminophen they contain as well and overdosing. Long term this can lead to toxicity and liver damage.
Always check with your doctor of chemist before taking paracetamol: NHS Paracetamol
- have had an allergic reaction to paracetamol or any other medicines in the past
- have liver or kidney problems
- regularly drink more than the maximum recommended amount of alcohol (14 units a week)
- take medicine for epilepsy
- take medicine for tuberculosis (TB)
- take the blood-thinner warfarin and you may need to take paracetamol on a regular basis
What are the alternatives?
If the pain is acute (short term) I will take paracetamol, but with more long term issues such as arthritis I prefer to look at alternative therapies.
- I take turmeric in capsule form and also in my food, it is an anti-inflammatory that is proving interesting for a number of chronic conditions and also brain health and I wrote and article on it last year. Cancer, Alzheimers, Curcumin, Turmeric
- I successfully recovered from a knee injury with acupuncture and physiotherapy without taking painkillers.
- I also use essential oils such as lavender, rosemary and tea tree oil.
If you are suffering from chronic pain then it is important that you consult a doctor diagnosing the cause. Conditions such as arthritis are clearly obvious, but internal pain could be down to a number of health issues that need thorough investigation.
Don’t spend weeks or months on over the counter painkillers that could be masking a serious condition that needs treatment.
Get checked out.
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty- two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019-2020/
Thank you for dropping in today and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me here or on firstname.lastname@example.org