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FDA Changes Tylenol Warnings But Doesn’t Tell You How to Take it Safely

Tylenol, acetaminophenFDA advisers have recommended lowering the maximum dose of over-the-counter acetaminophen -- the key ingredient in Tylenol, Excedrin and many other pain-killing medications.

The advisers' vote followed the release of a report last month, which found that severe liver damage and even death can result from a lack of consumer awareness that acetaminophen can cause such injury.

Many people may take more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen-based pain relievers in the mistaken belief that taking more will be more effective without posing health risks. And consumers may also not know that acetaminophen is present in many over-the-counter products, including remedies for colds, headaches and fevers, making it possible to exceed the recommended acetaminophen dose accidentally.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

In case you weren’t aware, the NUMBER ONE cause of acute liver failure in the United States is from taking acetaminophen (Tylenol type products). So it is high time the FDA took action.

A major part of the problem has to do with just how many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription products contain this drug. Acetaminophen is found in more than 200 over-the-counter cold and flu remedies and other medications, making it the most widely used painkiller in the United States.

And of course, when many people have a cold, headache or other ache or pain, they don’t just take two Tylenol and leave it at that. Many people double or triple-up, taking multiple OTC medications, all of which may contain acetaminophen.

So it’s actually very easy to overdose on acetaminophen, and thereby cause serious liver damage or liver failure -- and this is what this new FDA warning stems from.

In fact, you can actually have liver damage just from taking recommended doses of Tylenol (such as eight extra-strength Tylenol tablets daily for a couple of weeks), so hopefully these FDA changes will help to curb some of that.

What Will Actually be Changing?

The FDA advisory panel voted to make four major changes related to acetaminophen, including:

  1. Lowering the maximum daily dose of nonprescription acetaminophen for adults (the max is currently 4,000 mg, and there was no word on what the lowered dose might be)
  1. Reducing the maximum single adult daily dose from 1,000 mg to 650 mg
  1. Switching the 1,000 mg OTC dose to prescription-only status
  1. Eliminating prescription acetaminophen combination products (such as painkillers Vicodin and Percocet, which contain acetaminophen). It’s unclear whether this recommendation suggests banning the drugs altogether or simply eliminating the acetaminophen from the drugs.

The FDA still has to decide whether to accept these recommendations from the advisory panel, and even then it could take some time for them to take effect, but these are the proposed changes currently on the table.

The FDA Missed One Major Point

It’s thought that Tylenol causes its damage by depleting glutathione, an antioxidant that protects cells from toxins such as free radicals.

So if you do take Tylenol or other types of acetaminophen regularly you can limit some of the damage by taking N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), which is the rate-limiting nutrient for the formation of the intracellular antioxidant glutathione.

If you keep your glutathione levels up, the damage from the Tylenol may be largely preventable. Even conventional medicine recognizes this, as anyone who overdoses on Tylenol receives large doses of NAC in the emergency room.

So, while I am not a fan of using acetaminophen, I do realize and appreciate that acetaminophen-containing drugs are sometimes necessary to suppress pain while you seek to address the underlying cause of the problem (or are simply recovering from an injury using time and rest).

That said, I am not convinced that removing acetaminophen from the most common form of prescription painkillers is a wise move.

To me it seems the far wiser move by the FDA would be to mandate the use of NAC to be included with all the prescription acetaminophen products, which would virtually eliminate their toxicity.

This seems to me a very obvious solution, especially given that NAC is already used for the treatment of acetaminophen overdose.

Are There Better Options for Pain Relief?

As you likely know, I am not a fan of most prescription and OTC drugs. But pain relievers do sometimes get an exception; I don’t know about you but I am VERY grateful for analgesics and anesthetics, when they are used properly.

Acute traumas frequently result in injuries that will benefit by temporarily blocking your pain response, as do surgeries and certain other indications. Of course these drugs are easily abused, but if used carefully and wisely I believe they are a great advance in health care.

The type of use that painkillers often are NOT indicated for is the minor cold, headache, fever, ache or pain that cause many people to pop Tylenol and other pain relievers like candy. In these cases you are not doing your body any favors by taking drugs, and instead should seek to address the underlying cause of your pain or discomfort.

Often, it will be related to lifestyle factors such as poor diet, not enough sleep or chronic stress.

To relieve this type of minor pain, or even more severe, chronic pain, the tool that has worked the best in my experience is The Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT), which is currently being used by more than 15,000 psychologists. MTT is not only a drug-free approach for pain management of all kinds, but it can also treat the side effects associated with conventional drugs.

MTT borrows from the principles of acupuncture, in that it helps you balance out your subtle energy system. It helps resolve underlying, often subconscious, negative emotions that may be exacerbating your physical pain. By stimulating (tapping) well-established acupuncture points with your fingertips, you re-balance your energy system, which tends to dissipate pain.

So if you are searching for a solution for your pain, I would encourage you to learn more about MTT

You can also read through my comment in the first Related Article below for eight more natural alternatives for pain relief.