Monday, January 17, 2011

Acetaminophen Safety

Health Canada Reminds Canadians of Acetaminophen Risks

Health Canada issued an information update this week reminding Canadians of tighter dosage recommendations for acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol; Tempra; paracetamol). Acetaminophen is used to counteract fever and pain and has been used safely for this purpose in many instances, however, overdosage can cause severe liver toxicity and death. 

What Makes Acetaminophen Toxic?

The liver contains specific enzymes that break down acetaminophen and allow it to be excreted from the body. If someone has compromised detoxification or liver function or consumes an excessive dose of acetaminophen, the liver's ability to metabolize the drug can become overwhelmed. This leads to the accumulation of toxic materials that injure the liver. Alcohol and acetaminophen share a common enzyme system for detoxification. If taken together, toxic liver injury is more likely. That's why acetaminophen should never be taken with alcohol, or for pain associated with a hangover. 

Acetaminophen Dosing

Canadians should follow labelled dosage instructions and take particular caution if combining different products containing acetaminophen as an ingredient, such as cough and cold formulas. Adults and children over 12 years of age should take no more than 4000 mg of acetaminophen daily in divided doses. Pediatric doses are specific to the child's age and can be found here.  Consult a health care practitioner before combining acetaminophen with other pain or fever medications. People who have compromised liver or kidney function, including people who have chronic alcoholism, pregnant women should opt for alternatives to acetaminophen use with their health care practitioners' input. 

Safer Alternatives to Acetaminophen

Often, the use of acetaminophen for typical fevers, aches and pains can be avoided by treating the cause of the symptoms and supporting the body's natural healing mechanisms. Opt for gentler, non-toxic remedies such as homeopathic medicine under the direction of your licensed homeopath or naturopathic doctor for painful conditions like teething in children, menstrual cramps, headaches, body aches, strains and sprains, and post-vaccination pain. There are often ways to address the underlying cause of these problems and ease the body through them without the use of medicines that tax the liver. 

Pain and Fever - Managing the Root Cause of Illness

Pain is commonly caused by inflammation. If we can eliminate the cause of the inflammation, we can remove the pain. Naturopathic medicine can help identify and treat causes of inflammation and pain, whether a lack of an essential nutrient, a sensitivity to a food or medicine, an injury, nerve or muscle malfunction, etc.

Likewise, fever has an important role in allowing the body to develop an appropriate immune response to an infection. Learning how to manage, rather than suppress, a fever, can benefit short-term and long-term health. 

For more information on managing pain and fever safely and effectively with naturopathic medicine, contact me at the Meridian Wellness Centre in Guelph, (519)822-7075 or  
I believe in health education and am happy to respond to your questions!

-Dr. Liz


  1. I think it becomes toxic if you take too much of it. You should always limit your intake of that medicine. Anyway, thanks for the info.

  2. That's true...the "dose makes the poison", particularly when liver detoxification systems are already depleted or become overwhelmed, as in the case of combining acetaminophen and alcohol (ethanol).
    Thanks again for your comment!
    -Dr. Liz


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