Recently, the FDA recommended that doctors limit the amount they prescribe of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and some other pain reducers. They stated that taking more that 325 mg of acetaminophen per dose didn’t outweigh the added risk for damage to the liver. Liver injury has occurred in patients who took more than the prescribed amount of acetaminophen in 24 hours, took more than one product containing acetaminophen, or drank alcohol while taking acetaminophen. The harm to the liver by acetaminophen is greatly increased by alcohol, which slows down the rate that the liver can neutralize acetaminophen.
Since this is just one of the many negative reports about acetaminophen in recent years, it is time we looked for alternative to help us manage without acetaminophen or reduce the amount that is needed. We can’t necessarily take a combination of acetaminophen and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen, as these medications also slow down the detoxification of acetaminophen by the liver.
The two main actions of acetaminophen are to help reduce fever and pain. Some natural alternative to help reduce fevers are herbs like white willow, gotu kola, and to some a milder extent, peppermint. Additionally, we can choose herbs that induce sweating and in turn can help break a fever. These herbs are ginger, yarrow, chamomile, and hyssop. For fevers related to the flu, homeopathic remedies like belladonna, gelsemium, and oscillococcinum may also be useful.
To help reduce pain naturally, there are many herbs and supplements that can be used without the harmful side effects of acetaminophen. One of my favorite supplements for pain is MSM, methylsulfonylmethane. MSM is anti-inflammatory and safe to use in large amounts. Turmeric and its active constituent curcumin is probably one of the most popular supplements for reducing inflammation and therefore pain. These are sometimes paired with DL-phenylalanine, an amino acid that supports the production of endorphins. Endorphins are the chemicals our bodies produce naturally to reduce pain and improve mood. Other herbs for pain include kava kava, valerian, California poppy, passionflower, and white willow. All of these herbs are centrally acting like acetaminophen, which means they work on the brain to slow the transmission of pain signals from the body. Dr. Oz has also recently popularized the herb Corydalis, which has this same type of action.
If natural options like these are enough to sufficiently reduce pain and moderate amounts of acetaminophen containing medications are still needed, make sure you have sufficient amounts of these nutrients that are necessary for acetaminophen breakdown: riboflavin, glutathione, selenium, zinc, and molybdenum.