Last month, I warned you about the dangers of taking acetaminophen (the generic name for Tylenol®) for any type of respiratory infection—especially coronavirus.
But really, you shouldn’t take this over-the-counter (OTC) drug for anything, due to its ever-growing list of side effects. And it looks like there may be another deadly side effect to add to that list—cancer.
In fact, California regulators now want to label acetaminophen as a carcinogen.
Of course, California’s regulators are notoriously overzealous. But that doesn’t mean this particular investigation doesn’t have merit.
So, in a moment, we’ll take a closer look at the evidence on acetaminophen and cancer that’s under review. But first, let’s back up to talk about the many other known side effects…
We’ve known about its toxicity for decades
Acetaminophen (called paracetamol in Europe) first became available in the U.S. without prescription in 1955. And shortly thereafter, we started to learn about its potential side effects, including causing harm to your heart, kidneys, and stomach.
Of course, acetaminophen is also the No. 1 cause of liver damage and liver failure year after year in the United States.
And we’ve known about this problem for almost 40 years. In fact, when I worked as a hospital pathologist in the 1980s, I witnessed several deaths due to liver failure caused by this drug.
But when I reported them to the local Medical Examiner, he replied with a yawn that they see such deaths all the time! Soon, I became a Florida State Medical Examiner myself and encountered many more cases of liver failure linked to acetaminophen.
I’ve also thought acetaminophen is particularly dangerous because manufacturers add it to about 600 combination remedies—including Excedrin®, Robitussin®, Sudafed®, and Theraflu®. The problem is, consumers may not realize it’s been added. So, they may take one of these combination remedies, plus acetaminophen for pain, without thinking twice—and get into trouble quickly.
Ironically, acetaminophen is touted as a painkiller, but it doesn’t even work for common causes of pain! In fact, in one study, researchers reported that taking acetaminophen had no benefit for back pain, the most common cause of pain and disability in working Americans. Plus, the group that took acetaminophen actually suffered with back pain for 24 hours longer than the placebo group.
The researchers in that study said that one more day of pain wasn’t “significant”—statistically speaking. But try telling that to someone suffering with acute back pain!
Now, let’s get back to California’s investigation into the evidence linking acetaminophen to cancer…
This could be lights-out for Tylenol®
Thanks to a notorious state law called Proposition 65, California must warn its citizens of any potential risk from any chemical that may cause cancer or reproductive harm. Granted, over the years, California has amazingly placed several things that don’t actually cause cancer on this list…including coffee.
But as I’ve often pointed out, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
So, about nine years ago, California regulators began looking at acetaminophen. Specifically, they began to zero in on 133 studies published in peer-reviewed journals that examined the potential link between the OTC drug and cancer.
It turns out, some studies did indeed find that people who take acetaminophen do have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer.
And I’m not all that surprised.
Back in 1983, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned a similar OTC pain-relieving drug called phenacetin because it was shown to cause cancer. And guess what phenacetin is metabolized into by the body?
You got it…
Now, as I said, California began looking at these concerns about acetaminophen back in 2011. And they even made it a “high priority” project. (Apparently, like their high-speed rail project, but not as fast.) So, I’m not sure we’ll ever get a ruling on it from the state…much less from the FDA.
Either way, you already know this OTC drug is unsafe at any speed.
And remember, inflammation is often the underlying cause of pain. So, by controlling inflammation, you can actually stop pain instead of just masking it with acetaminophen—or any other drug.
“Tylenol Could Have a Cancer Warning in California, Here Are The Issues.” Forbes, 1/25/20. (forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2020/01/25/tylenol-could-have-a-cancer-warning-in-california-here-are-the–issues/#2aa6997e2f0c)