Acetaminophen Can Blunt the Brain’s Response to New Information


By Heather Callaghan

Would you be willing to give up a part of your brain function every time you need to get rid of a headache? It turns out, acetaminophen tablets create a brain debt, and a life debt at that.

Last year, an eye-opening study discovered that over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) can blunt emotions like joy. Essentially, they are emotional numb-ers.

Fast forward one year later and another study finds that paracetamol (also acetaminophen) – the world’s most widely used pain reliever – dulls the brain’s response to new information, the ability to adapt our behavior to our surroundings (a necessary skill for surviving and thriving) and process what’s going on around us. As you can imagine, that would not only affect brain function but could also create a negative domino effect in a person’s life. Consider how we need to process information in order to solve problems, study, work, choose our friends, a life’s mate, a home to settle down in or a career….

Paracetamol is what Europe calls acetaminophen, whereas in the U.S. people say acetaminophen or a brand name such as Tylenol. It is found in many over-the-counter drug brands and is used frequently to treat headaches, fevers, general aches and pains, joint pains and PMS cramps. Incredibly, scientists have never really known the exact mechanism for how these pain relievers work. Apparently, they did not understand the long-term consequences of OTC pain relievers until recently – after millions of people have used them for decades. Many people mistakenly think that OTC drugs are safe or side-effect free because they do not require permission/prescription to use and are not behind the pharmacist’s counter. Tens of millions of paracetamol prescriptions are also prescribed each year. Paracetamol makes an appearance in other heavy-duty prescriptions drugs such as opioids for cancer pain and after surgeries.

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A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto, published March 2016 in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggests worrying changes to the brain – that is, the alteration of cognitive control. Even following the recommended doses can lead to less response to uncertain situations and impeded “error detection.”

NYR Natural News reports:

The detected brain changes were small enough that people did not notice them, but large enough to cause problems in every day functioning.

Poorer ‘error detection’

While recent research has only begun to show how acetaminophen stops pain, some behavioural studies have shown slight cognitive impairments when on the drug. This is likely because the area of the brain that perceives pain is the same one involved in ‘social pain’ – for instance rejection or embarrassment.

“An obvious question is if people aren’t detecting these errors, are they also making errors more often when taking acetaminophen?” said lead researcher Dan Randles.


The double-blind, randomized study tested 62 people with half receiving 1,000 mg acetaminophen (normal max dose), and the rest receiving a placebo.

NYR explained the task:

The participants were then hooked up to an electroencephalogram and given a target-detection task called Go or No Go, hitting a button when an “F” appeared on a screen but not hitting the button if an “E” appeared on the screen.

In addition to hitting the button more often when an “E” appeared, the group given acetaminophen also missed more “F” screens than the placebo group — suggesting the drug has an effect on the mind beyond simply killing pain.

Randles said:

The task we designed is meant to capture that since most of the stimuli were Go, so you end up getting into a routine of automatically hitting the Go button. When you see a No Go, that requires cognitive control because you need to interrupt the process.

Repetitive, automatic or mundane tasks don’t require too much cognitive control but it is when our routine “flow” is interrupted that we need to be ready for action. Randles gives the example of needing cognitive control if crossing the street while taking to a friend.

He said,

It looks like acetaminophen makes it harder to recognize an error, which may have implications for cognitive control in daily life.

Like ibuprofen, acetaminophen drugs harm the liver. Paracetamol uses up the liver’s glutathione stores – which can make an overdose fatal. Glutathione is one of the most important ways the body has to detoxify and is difficult to obtain from food. Our bodies manufacture it through a complex process, but it is heavily used up when metabolizing drugs. The “pain”-ful irony is that by using up glutathione reserves, OTC pain relievers actually theoretically lead to more aches and pains in the long run because it diminishes the liver’s ability to detoxify the entire body. Long-term results could be unresolved inflammation and a vicious cycle if the liver can’t erase drug residue. Unfortunately, kidney failure is an observable result from acetaminophen overuse.

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In last year’s Ohio-based study that discovered acetaminophen’s effects on emotion, the lead researcher had said [emphasis added]:

This means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought – Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever.

A co-author said that the participants didn’t realize they were even reacting differently and that, “Most people probably aren’t aware of how their emotions may be impacted when they take acetaminophen.”

Is acetaminophen affecting your ability to relate emotionally and gather new info? These symptoms spell brain fog and an unfortunate lack of clarity in one’s life. The next time you have pain, why not run for two glasses of water with a pinch of sea salt,  white willow bark and turmeric. Those soothing anti-inflammatory substances add value to your body and take nothing with it on the way out.

Picture by Pixabay, modified by Heather Callaghan

This article (Acetaminophen Can Blunt the Brain’s Response to New Information) can be republished with attribution to Heather Callaghan and Natural

Heather Callaghan is an independent researcher, natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at Like at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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