I recently saw a headline in Medscape Medical News that read: “Acetaminophen risks may have been underestimated.”
My colleague and friend Dr. George Lundberg founded Medscape Medical News almost 15 years ago (after he stepped down from serving as editor of the Journal of American Medical Association for 20 years). It’s an important, accessible source of timely and credible information for health professionals.
But that headline about “underestimating” must be the understatement of the century.
As you know, I never underestimate (or understate) the risks of acetaminophen–the generic name for Tylenol.
This toxic chemical has been rolling around this side of the pond since WW II, when U.S. manufacturers first “obtained” the patent from a German chemical company that manufactured toxic dyes. McNeil Labs of Philadelphia then developed acetaminophen into a drug and sold it off to Johnson & Johnson at a huge profit, founding another Philadelphia medical dynasty of ill-gotten gains.
Since then, J&J has been hiding this toxic drug in various products, often combining it with other pain-relieving drugs such as codeine. This ploy hides the fact that Tylenol doesn’t actually work for pain. (More on that in just a moment.)
In the late 1970s, I worked with NASA’s astrobiology programs. I helped develop testing procedures to detect blood levels of this drug using state-of-the-art analytical instruments. And even back then, we considered Tylenol a toxic chemical. In fact, we included it in a “toxicology panel” to detect poisons.
In the early 1980s, when I worked as a hospital pathologist, I witnessed deaths due to liver failure caused by this drug. When I reported them to the local Medical Examiner, they replied with a yawn that they see such deaths all the time! Later, as a Medical Examiner myself, and as a consulting forensic pathologist and toxicologist, I encountered many more cases.
But I wasn’t the only one.
In the new report, researchers from the U.K. conducted a systematic review of 1,888 studies to document the adverse events associated with Tylenol. The adverse events reported included deaths, as well as toxicity to the heart, GI tract and kidneys.
In this review, eight studies followed participants prospectively over time. I consider these kinds of studies–based on long-term actual observations–the most authoritative.
In studies that examined mortality risk, the death rate for men and women who used Tylenol was 90 percent higher than those who didn’t use the drug. Another study showed a dose-response relationship, meaning the more of the drug the patient took, the higher their risk of death.
Four studies reported non-fatal heart toxicity, again with a strong dose-response effect. In these studies, even men and women who took the lowest dose of Tylenol still had a 20 percent higher risk of suffering non-fatal heart toxicity compared to non-users. Men and women who took the drug at the highest dose range had a 70 percent greater risk of heart toxicity. Furthermore, some studies found the risk went up as high as 160 percent greater.
For GI toxicity, one study reported patients who took the lowest doses of Tylenol ran about a 10 percent increased risk of suffering bleeding and other complications. On the other hand, men and women who took Tylenol at the higher dose range ran a 50 percent greater chance of suffering these dangerous complications.
In terms of kidney damage, four studies found adverse effects, and three studies found a dose-response. Overall, researchers linked the drug to a 30 percent decrease in kidney function. At the lower doses, men and women ran a 40 percent greater risk of damaged kidney function, on average. And at the higher doses, they ran 120 percent greater risk, on average. In some cases, the actual risk was as much as 240 percent higher.
(I wrote in more detail about the importance of kidney health and the hidden risk factors in the March 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Subscribers can download and view this issue for free by logging on to www.drmicozzi.com with their username and password. And if you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)
Amazingly, acetaminophen (called paracetamol outside the U.S.) is the most widely used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drug for pain worldwide. But recent studies show it doesn’t even work at all for the most common back, neck and joint pains. One study even showed that men and women who took Tylenol for back pain spent one more day in misery than those who took a sugar pill. Not surprising for a metabolic poison.
This drug is the first step on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pain treatment protocol, for reasons they’ve never really explained. Plus, many international medical guidelines recommend Tylenol as the first-line drug therapy for a multitude of acute and chronic pain conditions.
If this useless poison is really the WHO’s first choice, then we must repeat the timeless question of the mid-20th century comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, “WHO’s on first?”
Who’s on first, indeed? Certainly not all the poor patients worldwide suffering from pain.
This pharmacological farce is no laughing matter. It causes countless deaths and complications each year. But sadly, it appears the mainstream medical establishment is just beginning to recognize and report on this tragedy.
I repeat–never take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for any reason. Ever. Period.
- “Paracetamol: not as safe as we thought? A systematic literature review of observational studies,” BMJ (www.bmj.com) published online 3/2/2015