This acetaminophen side effect can harm your relationships
How many times have you said to somebody, “I feel your pain.”? Well, believe it or not, if you take acetaminophen on a regular basis, maybe you can’t. A new report concluded that acetaminophen can blunt your ability and capacity to be empathetic. The report is yet another strike against acetaminophen, which already has a solid list of other side effects–some of them deadly.
That only makes the need for natural pain relief alternatives more important. Thankfully, there are plenty that are abundant, effective, and best of all, safe!
In a page-turning report from the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal, a team of researchers concluded that taking acetaminophen reduces your capacity to empathize with another person’s pain. And not just physical pain, but emotional pain too.
The premise of the experiment was simple. Previous studies have shown that witnessing or listening to another person’s pain activates brain regions that are also activated during one’s own experience of pain. Those studies suggest that empathy for pain relies on similar psychological and neural representations as the experience of physical pain. But what would happen to the reactions of people who have been taking painkillers on a regular basis?
I’ll let the researchers do the talking…
“…our research is the first to show that the popular physical painkiller acetaminophen can reduce empathy to the pain of others. Physical pain is an aversive experience, and undoubtedly many people can attest to acetaminophen’s beneficial ability to suppress physical pain. However, acetaminophen can also have unappreciated psychosocial side effects by interrupting the fundamental capacity to empathically connect with other people’s painful experiences. Quite literally, acetaminophen reduces one’s ability to feel another’s pain.”
I truly urge you to read the whole thing. And I urge you to share it with others. The experiments conducted were very interesting. The report is written in a readable, conversational tone. The findings are downright chilling and urgent.
It’s urgent because an estimated 23% of the United States population takes a drug containing acetaminophen—Tylenol, or its store-brand equivalent—each week. Many take it daily. And based on the findings of this research, the next logical step is to worry about the cumulative effect this will have on all of us.
This new report is the cherry on top of a pile of existing concerns (all medically backed) about acetaminophen. Acetaminophen overdoses cause more than 100,000 calls to Poison Control Centers every year. It’s also responsible for more than 56,000 emergency room visits, 2,600 hospitalizations, and about 150 deaths.
Natural Pain Relief Alternatives to Acetaminophen
Taking acetaminophen on a regular basis is clearly a threat to your health. Though it is widely used and very popular, there are many natural pain relief alternatives that you can use for both short-term and long-term pain.
One of my favorite natural pain relief alternatives is DMSO cream. If you have not heard of it before, DMSO is short for dimethyl sulfoxide, which comes from a substance found in wood. Its name sounds straight out of the lexicon of chemical byproducts, but I assure you that it’s real, it’s natural, and it’s a great pain reliever. Simply rub DMSO cream on the source of your pain—headache, joint pain, heel pain, etc. It comes in other forms, but we recommend the cream the most. It also comes in various concentrations. We suggest you start small (no more than 25% at first) because higher amounts have been found to cause skin irritations and stomach pain. It’s not recommended for people with liver or kidney issues, diabetes, or asthma.
White willow bark is another safe and mild pain reliever that studies have shown to be just as effective as ibuprofen and acetaminophen while also being gentler on the stomach. White willow bark comes in a variety of forms—capsule, cream, tea, and liquid. Talk with your doctor before taking it. Willow bark can interfere with blood thinners or beta-blockers. Also, avoid it if you have diabetes, gout, or kidney or liver issues.
Multi-purpose supplement curcumin is also a great pain reliever, especially pain related to injury or inflammation. For strong pain relief, we recommend taking 2-4 500 mg doses, twice a day.
Don’t be scared by the taboos surrounding a cannabis-based oil called CBD (Cannabidiol). It can reduce pain, inflammation, and overall discomfort. What it does not do is get you “high.” Though it comes from marijuana and hemp plants, it doesn’t contain THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. Research has shown that cannabis oil is an effective pain reliever with little to no side effects. Studies have shown it can also be helpful in treating insomnia and multiple sclerosis.
Pamper the Pain Away
A few other natural pain relief alternatives don’t just work on the physical symptoms of pain but are also mental stress relievers, too.
Epsom salt baths are great if you experience pain in several parts of the body. Add two cups of Epsom salt to the water while it is running to help it dissolve. There are no known side effects. Plus, sometimes all that you need at the end of a long day is a nice, warm bath. Put some relaxing music on for the extra touch!
Deep tissue massages calm inflammation by boosting lymph circulation. It also relaxes tight muscles and stimulates blood flow through your muscles, allowing the white blood cells in your body to attack inflammation at its source.
Acupuncture uses very slim needles to stimulate constricted muscles all over your body—allowing the red blood cells, oxygen, and nutrients in your blood to smother inflamed areas. If you gasp at the thought of needles, rest assured these needles are thinner than a strand of human hair and are very nearly painless.
If you are taking acetaminophen on a regular basis, we strongly encourage you to consider other natural pain relief alternatives. We believe it’s only a matter of time before another study shows another unknown negative side effect of acetaminophen.
But we already have enough evidence in front of us to know that the cons of acetaminophen far outweigh the pros. And we already have enough natural pain solutions to choose from that makes it easier to stop taking acetaminophen today.
Mischkowski, Dominik; Crocker, Jennifer; Way, Baldwin M. “From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 11, Issue 9, 1 September 2016, Pages 1345–1353. Published May 2016.
“Use Only As Directed.” This American Life. Aired September 20, 2013.
Last Updated: February 13, 2020
Originally Published: September 4, 2017