by Stephen LaBounty (2007-10-21)

More commonly known as Tylenol, Acetaminophen is perhaps one of the more potentially dangerous analgesic drugs. An overdose whether accidental or intentional, can be fatal and may cause liver and kidney damage. When Acetaminophen is taken, it is metabolized by a number of metabolic systems in the liver, including one called the P450 system. What happens is an immediate byproduct, or metabolite that is very reactive and can kill liver cells. Normally this metabolite is converted into another final metabolite by the anti-oxidant glutathione, which as we know helps in the prevention of free radicals which are chemical entities created in our bodies as a result of many different reactions, including the metabolism of drugs.

But, if there is too much Acetaminophen in the body and not enough glutathione available, then a toxic amount of metabolite accumulates, which can result in liver failure and death. That doesn't mean that if you take Tylenol you are going to die. It means that abuse of Acetaminophen, especially a chronic abuse of it, can decrease the functional capacity of the liver.

Some studies show that extended use (years) of Acetaminophen can cause kidney damage as well, especially if the person taking it has an underlying kidney disease.

If a person were to try and commit suicide using an overdose of Acetaminophen, emergency room physicians would administer and antioxidant drug called Mucosil. If administered in time it could save the patients life by inhibiting the free radical damage to the liver caused by the Acetaminophen induced depletion of hepatic glutathione.

So now what? Do I take it? or don't I take it? The answer is always the same. You must first check with your physician or health care provider who knows your health history. You then ask questions as to the long range effect of taking Acetaminophen if that is necessary. Lastly, take it for symptomatic relief and not for prevention or force of habit.

When I take any pain reliever I always make sure that I am taking them with copious amounts of water, after a meal (not popular with some, but works for me). I also take 400 I.U. of vitamin E and natural sources of vitamin C (Citrus fruits, Rose Hip tea, etc). These are part of my daily diet anyway.

Use common sense, trust in your health care providers and research if you're not sure of any OTC (over the counter) pain manager.