By James Madeiros
For better or worse, we live in a pill-popping nation. Whether it is prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication, the pharmaceutical industry seems to have a cure for everything.
And, Tylenol – in all of its many branded forms – is the choice of many for everyday aches and pains. Despite several OTC recalls this year for manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, it still posted $15 billion in sales for the last quarter of fiscal 2010. That is a lot Tylenol out in the world.
The conclusion one can draw from this is that some of that Tylenol is getting mixed with alcohol, and that is not a good thing. One of the main ingredients of Tylenol is acetaminophen, a controversial chemical that has been linked to liver and kidney damage. And, that is without combining it with alcohol.
The National Institute of Health warns that mixing Tylenol with alcohol can cause “stomach upset, bleeding and ulcers, liver damage … and rapid heartbeat.” And, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration, as of 2009 these warnings are now also found on the labels of OTC drugs that contain acetaminophen.
For some people, though, warnings are not enough. They need to know why.
Acetaminophen, when combined with a certain enzyme that develops in the liver after sustained drinking (2-3 drinks per day, over a few days), results in a toxic byproduct that will cause liver cell death. So, what this means is that if a person goes on a weekend bender, then uses an OTC drug like Tylenol to cure the raging hangover that ensues, he or she is risking the possibility of liver failure.
However, when alcohol and acetaminophen are ingested simultaneously, the two compete for the enzyme that needs to be broken down to create the toxic byproduct, and so actually reduces the danger.
But, relying on this biological magic is no substitute for simply avoiding the combination of alcohol and Tylenol, and monitoring your acetaminophen intake, for that matter. There is, after all, no sure way to predict what may happen when alcohol is mixed with acetaminophen.
Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).