Acetaminophen and Your Liver: What You Need to Know

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Taking the maximum dose of acetaminophen every day can trigger abnormalities in your bloodstream, which are a surefire sign that your liver is being damaged. That’s the result of a brand new study out of the University of North Carolina.

 Available without a prescription, acetaminophen is better known as “Tylenol,” “Excedrin,” “Genapap,” and “Percocet.” They are pain relievers — which have been approved since 1951 — that raise your pain threshold so that it takes more pain in order for you to feel anything.

 The study has highlighted a new danger in these ultra- common drugs, namely that they have the potential for liver toxicity. The researchers were very surprised by the findings. They explained that there was a “remarkable” effect of acetaminophen when it was taken as directed for just four days.

 The researchers figured this out by accident. A previous study combined acetaminophen with a narcotic, where the researchers discovered that many healthy people had high levels of specific liver enzymes in the blood — abnormal levels. They halted the study right away and figured it was the narcotic that caused the alarming results. But the follow-up study found it was — much to the researchers’ surprise — acetaminophen that caused the liver problems.

 In the study, they found that none of the people who were taking placebo experienced abnormal levels of enzymes in their blood, but in the treatment groups, 31 to 44% of the participants had levels that were three times higher than what would be considered normal.

 The researchers said the fact that the group taking only acetaminophen also had high abnormal blood levels suggests that the drug alone may be responsible for the problems. The researchers called this finding “unbelievable.”

 So what can we take away from this? For those of you who are using acetaminophen in order to treat a health condition should continue to do so, but if you don’t require Tylenol, then don’t take high doses of it on a regular basis, as elevated levels of liver enzymes may be hidden in your body.

 Be careful with the dosage and note how many days you’ve been taking acetaminophen for. Also, when you use other drugs, read the labels carefully in order to see if they contain hidden acetaminophen — because that will obviously also contribute to the overall level in your body. These are called “combination” drugs.

 In the near future, scientists will have to rethink what the upper limit of safety is for acetaminophen. Millions of people take it for pain relief, and for the most part this is fine. But how often do they take it? And do they pop two instead of one tablet at a time? Thanks to this new study, that simple choice now takes on much more significance.