Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and the most common drug ingredient in the United States, is found in more than 600 medicines, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. According to CHPA reports, about 52 million Americans use a medicine containing acetaminophen each week. This stuff is everywhere.
While we already know that acetaminophen is the leading cause of calls to Poison Control Centers (>100,000/year), 56,000 emergency room visits, 2,600 hospitalizations, and an estimated 458 deaths due to acute liver failure each year, we can now add blunted emotional responses from acetaminophen to the long list of possible side effects.
The good news? At least you won’t care as much about the average 458 deaths from acetaminophen each year.
Acetaminophen and Emotions
For the small study, 82 college students either took a placebo or 1,000 mg of acetaminophen before viewing a series of photos. These photos were meant to elicit a wide range of emotional responses in the subjects. Some of the photos were pleasant (e.g. children playing with cats), while others were unpleasant (e.g. malnourished children) and some neutral (e.g. cow in a field).
The students were then asked to rate each photo for how positive or negative it was on a scale of -5 (extremely negative) to 5 (extremely positive). The students also rated their emotional response to each photo on a scale of 0 (no emotional response) to 10 (extreme emotional response).
While those who had taken a placebo rated their average emotional response as a 6.76 out of a possible 10, the acetaminophen group reported an average emotional response of only 5.85. The subjects taking acetaminophen also rated the positive photos as less positive and the negative photos as less negative than their placebo counterparts.
How Does it Work?
Well… the researchers don’t quite know just yet. They have some speculation as to possible causes.
“Acetaminophen exerts a multitude of effects: changing serotonin neurotransmission in the brain, reducing inflammatory signaling in the brain, or decreasing activation in the brain areas responsible for emotion, for instance — and any one or combination of these effects could be responsible for the psychological outcomes that we observe on individuals’ blunted negative and positive evaluations,” – Geoffrey Durso, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student in social psychology at The Ohio State University
While this post certainly doesn’t recommend you to stop taking any medication, it does highlight the importance of understanding that what a person puts in their body can having wide-ranging and unintended consequences. The food we eat, the drinks we consume, and the medications and supplements we put into our bodies have the power to harm or heal us. It’s our job as both patients and physicians to find the right balance to ensure our own health and wellness.