Think Tylenol is Harmless? Your Liver May Beg to Differ!

Prescription Drugs

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


If you are a parent of teenage children, one of your main concerns may be your kids being exposed to alcohol and drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), which is used to treat pain and reduce fever, is probably not something that you are too worried about.

But the truth is there is cause for concern when it comes to OTC drug abuse. I came across a recent article that discusses Canadian teens using OTC drugs to intentionally overdose. The article, which looked at data provided by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, says that the number of intentional overdoses with both OTC and prescription drugs has drastically increased among young people over the last decade.

(An intentional overdose is usually a means to commit suicide, and so many young people struggle with mental health issues today).

The article also refers to a recent Canadian study, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, that looked at increasing rates of intentional overdoses among young people between 2010 and 2015. 

“The study found that acetaminophen, most well-known by its brand name Tylenol, was the most commonly used drug, followed by antidepressants and then non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil,” according to the article.

As we all know, acetaminophen is readily available at any drug store. So some Canadian health officials are demanding that higher doses of this drug be restricted and that not so many pills be sold at once. 

“It makes no sense having stores selling huge bottles of Tylenol," said Eric Yoshida, a liver specialist referenced in the article. “That is a recipe for disaster.” 

If not taken properly, acetaminophen can cause acute liver failure (especially if taken with alcohol). 

“The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called bile. This helps carry away waste products from the liver. All the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down, balances, and creates the nutrients and also metabolizes drugs into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body or that are nontoxic,” (John Hopkins Medicine).

So the liver is a very important filtering system for our bodies, and overloading the liver with too much medication can be detrimental to our health.

“Acetaminophen, the ubiquitous over-the-counter analgesic and antipyretic, is the most common drug used in intentional overdoses in the United States. Inadvertent self-poisoning is also a surprisingly common unintended consequence of acetaminophen misuse for pain management,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), acetaminophen is an active ingredient in hundreds of OTC drugs and prescription medications. 

(Examples of prescription products that contain acetaminophen include hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin, Lortab), and oxycodone with acetaminophen (Tylox, Percocet)). 

The FDA has asked that all prescription drugs with more than 325 mg of acetaminophen be discontinued in order to prevent future cases of liver injury and overdose. The maximum daily dose of acetaminophen is 4,000 mg (The American College of Gastroenterology says it’s 3,000 mg, so ask a competent healthcare professional what is appropriate for you). This dose may sound like a lot, however, it is currently easy to exceed this amount if you are not careful and aware of what you are taking. Some prescription drugs contain as much as 750 mg of acetaminophen in one pill. So if you are someone who takes multiple medications and multiple pills a day, you have to be mindful.

As far as OTC products are concerned, the FDA is still figuring out how to go about possibly making the purchase of acetaminophen products like Tylenol more safe. Maybe stores shouldn’t carry such large bottles of acetaminophen. In my opinion this needs to be a priority, because it is greatly affecting young people. 

The goal here is not to make people afraid of acetaminophen. The American College of Gastroenterology reports that when used as directed, acetaminophen is very safe (even with people who have liver disease).

We just have to be very educated about what we put into our bodies and how they may affect some of our bodies’ most vital organs. Remember, the liver is one of the largest and most important organs in our bodies. It is our own personal detoxification system, removing harmful substances from our blood. It removes byproducts from medications we take. The liver also converts nutrients from the food we eat into materials our bodies can use, stores these materials and gives them to our cells when they need them. With all the critical functions that the liver performs, it is crucial to ensure that we don't destroy it. 

What else can we do to be proactive about the health of our liver?

When our liver gets too fat, it is difficult for the liver to perform the functions mentioned above, and we are prone to diseases and early death.

Too much alcohol consumption may cause the liver to be fatty, but people who consume no alcohol at all can still have a fatty liver (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Being overweight or obese is surely a way to increase your risk of liver disease. So eat healthily, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight in order to maintain the health of your liver. 

It is also important to ensure that you are receiving adequate amounts of your nutrients. For example, a study shows vitamin C deficiency may increase liver cholesterol and triglycerides, which can be a sign of fatty liver disease. For tips on a healthy liver diet, click here.

In order to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of the necessary vitamins and minerals, schedule routine nutrient tests in order to identify any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies you may have. If the test reveals you have too much or too little of a certain nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.

Finally, if you are someone who regularly takes OTC and prescription medications for pain, consider implementing magnesium, cryotherapy or CBD into your pain management arsenal. They may be very effective to reduce inflammation and pain.

Enjoy your healthy pain free life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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