Tylenol in the US, also known by another very familiar name, Paracetamol in India and the
UK, might be facing a ban in the state of California, US and subsequent addition to the
Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, that contains a list of
those components that cause an increased risk of incidence of cancer.
This appeal for a ban
came in after it was reported that using tylenol might have an added risk of causing cancers.
So what is Tylenol is and how does it act on the human body? Why is it facing a ban? What
are the alternatives?
Tylenol has been used in the US as an over the counter drug since 1955 as an analgesic. In
India, we are familiar with the drug Crocin or Dolo-650. This is nothing but Tylenol. Tylenol
and many other analgesics that are in the market contain a component known as
N -(4-hydroxyphenyl)acetamide or simply Acetaminophen (AC).
Till date, the exact action of AC is not known. According to doctors and researchers across
the world, AC acts on a protein Cyclo-oxygenase in the brain that is responsible for the
production of an hormone-like substance- Prostaglandins. These are pain and
inflammatory-mediating molecules and are what make us experience pain during a fever. The
exact dosage between what is safe and what can be toxic is extremely narrow. This is why
most people tend to take this drug more often and land up in the emergency room. What they
are diagnosed with is severe liver damage that ultimately leads to death. More than 150
people in the US succumb to AC-poisoning. Doctors have hence come up with one tablet
every 6 hours as the preferred dosage now, which can also be quite high for some.
Intensive research from across the globe on AC and its association with cancer has been
conducted and many are still ongoing. The reviews from these studies are mixed and are not
concrete enough to prove that AC is a carcinogen. Most reports only suggest that it has
carcinogenic properties but have not been successful in proving it. To be placed under
Proposition 65, acetaminophen must be clearly shown through scientifically valid testing
according to generally accepted principles to cause cancer.
A very interesting review by Professor Noel S Weiss from the University of Washington
showed studies from across different labs in various countries. The relative risk (RR) of
cancer occurrence due to AC exposure in patients was measured and a score of more than 1
meant that the person had an increased incidence of cancer due to AC and a score of less than
1 meant no risk at all.
Since the causation of each type of cancer is different, the results of each cancer study was
published where it was established that other than lung cancer, no cancer of the body showed
an association of exposure to AC. In the case of lung cancer, the study revealed a mere score
of 1.4 even with patients who smoke and therefore was considered to be null. This was why
most doctors from California and across the US said it was very early to convict tylenol of
The only definite risks from using Tylenol frequently is hepatotoxicity or liver damage.
Acetaminophen is broken down in the liver and it is removed from the body by the kidneys
after it has provided the body with the desired relief. When the drug is overused, it poses a
strain on the liver and the kidneys leading to damage and subsequent failure of the organs. In
rare cases, exposure to AC has lead to one of the trio of severe skin reactions as warned by
the FDA in 2015.
All this information can lead to mixed reactions in ones head. What should we do during a
fever? Do I take Crocin or let my body fight on its own? The body in any case does fight
fevers on its own by increasing its temperature to more than 98, which causes the foreign
entity in the body to be eliminated. Pain management can be the tricky part, but worry not,
we are from the land of Ayurveda and there are plenty of concoctions and therapies that will
help to cope with the pain and not cause severe side effects.
Ayurveda unlike Allopathy goes down to the root and eliminates the issue. A few natural pain
medicines that you can find in your own abode include ginger, turmeric, pumpkin and
sunflower seeds. Ginger has components that break down the inflammatory compounds in the
body and in addition, it has antioxidant effects that break down any existing inflammation
and the acidity in the fluid in between the joints.
Turmeric contains an important component, Curcumin. Curcumin is a widely researched
component. It improves the circulation of blood and blocks the formation of two enzymes
that are responsible for the inflammation. When magnesium levels are low in the body, there
is an increased production of prostaglandins and can cause migraines. Sunflower seeds and
pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium and can up the levels of magnesium in the body
thereby relieving one of the pain. Interesting fact: When one consumes alcohol, they tend to
suffer from severe headaches. This is due to the fact that alcohol reduces the magnesium
levels in the body.
Mukta Pishti (pearl powder with rose water) and Muktha Bhasma are two effective fever
medicines. They help to reduce the temperature of the body and has a cooling effect on the
digestive system. Shadanga Paniya is a concoction of many herbs that is administered during
fever and deals with headaches, vomiting, weakness and muscle aches. These medicines are
prescribed by the doctor and must not be taken otherwise since the dosage can change
according to the severity.
Embelia ribes, is a centrally acting analgesic and has shown very promising effects on
animals when compared to allopathic analgesics. When administered to the patient, it shows
an increased reaction time in the body unlike the usual analgesics that require frequent
Dashanga Yoga is an ayurvedic herb concoction containing 10 different herbs which include
Shirisha, Licorice, Indian Valerian root, Sandalwood, Cardamom, Jatamanshi, Curcumin,
Daru Haridra, Kushta, and Fragrant Swamp Mallow. Shirisha, Licorice, Indian Valerian root,
Sandalwood, Daru Haridra are scientifically proven to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
Curcumin blocks the production of lipo-oxygenase and cyclo-oxygenase, that cause pain, and
also release certain steroidal hormones that can eliminate the pain. Hence this medicine can
be used to manage the pain and inflammation.
Ayurveda also has one other method of pain management. It considers the pain as a
mind-body experience (this can be subjective of course). It helps relieve one of the pain by
instigating the brain to release many pain relieving enzymes. This can be done mentally and
ayurveda recognises this ability of the mind to control the pain and this force can be
strengthened by the practice of meditation and being positive in any given situation.