When your head is pounding or you’re in pain, you probably don’t think twice about reaching for the paracetamol. But the truth is we should all think twice… as these seemingly harmless over-the-counter drugs are not as safe as most doctors would have us believe.
In the UK alone, 30,000 people a year end up in hospital as a result of taking paracetamol. Research has linked the drug to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, liver damage and when used as a hangover treatment (even after drinking a small to moderate amount of alcohol) it increases the risk of kidney disease by a staggering 123 per cent.
Now researchers have unearthed another drawback linked to their use… paracetamol doesn’t just reduce our pain it may also stop us empathizing with the pain of others.
Researchers from Ohio State University tested acetaminophen, the main ingredient in paracetamol, on 80 college students. Half were given 1,000mg of paracetamol and the rest received a placebo.
After waiting an hour for the drug to take effect, the participants read eight short accounts involving scenarios in which someone suffered some sort of pain or misfortune. For example, one scenario involved a person who suffered a knife cut that went down to the bone and another was about a person experiencing the death of his father. They were then asked to rate the pain being experienced by each person in the various scenarios.
The researchers found that the paracetamol group all gave lower pain and suffering scores than those in the placebo group. Similar results were seen in other experiments, including reduced empathy for others who were exposed to loud blasts of noise. The same researchers had also previously found that acetaminophen blunts positive emotions like joy.
Fortunately, there are safer, natural ways to relieve pain… that won’t numb your emotions or turn you into a zombie in the process.
Take white willow (Salix alba) for instance, which has traditionally been used by European herbalists as a treatment for pain, fever, headache and rheumatism. At the end of the 19th century, scientists discovered that the bark of this tree contained a glycoside (plant chemical) called salicin, which is converted in the body to a pain-relieving compound called salicylic acid.
Aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid) is a synthetic form of this chemical. Supplements of white willow bark, although slower-acting, provide all the pain-relieving benefits of aspirin without the drug’s notorious side effect of stomach irritation.
In a placebo-controlled trial carried out in Israel, 210 patients with low back pain took either ‘high dose’ white willow bark extract, a ‘low dose’ extract or a placebo, for four weeks. At the end of the trial, 39 per cent of the high dose group was free from pain, compared with 21 per cent of the low dose group and six per cent of the group taking placebo. Although white willow is far less irritating to the stomach than aspirin, people with peptic ulcers or gastritis should only use this herb under a doctor’s supervision.
Here's to your good health,
Journal Of Natural Health Solutions
Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2016; nsw057
Am J Med 2000; 109(1): 9-14