Much of the nation feels the clutches of cold and flu season, but if you or your loved ones take any or many over-the-counter cold or flu medicines, fever reducers or pain relievers (over-the-counter and some prescription), then you could compromise your health from a primary ingredient used in them. And what is that ingredient? Acetaminophen.
We’re not talking taking more than is directed, either, although there are people who do just that. In fact, a newer study from researchers at the University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill, were surprised to discover that taking acetaminophen for four days—using the product as directed—can put users at risk for liver damage.
Acetaminophen has been on the market for decades and is often used by those who seek an alternative to aspirin and its side effects, including negative gastrointestinal results. Unfortunately, acetaminophen has been the culprit behind nearly 80,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations and approximately 500 deaths annually—whether accidentally, by unknowingly mixing more than one acetaminophen-based products, or intentionally. Unfortunately, this kind of use or misuse of acetaminophen is the number one cause of acute liver failure in our nation.
Previous studies show that acetaminophen in combination with hydrocodone cause liver damage, and experts wrongly thought that it was the hydrocodone that resulted in liver damage. This newer study, however, clearly shows that acetaminophen is what can cause liver damage, not the oxycodone, although that can have its own set of adverse effects. For clarification, this new study was done on the effects of acetaminophen alone. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
And while we’re not suggesting that you should never take acetaminophen, we do believe that being aware of the potential side effects is important. In fact, not only can it cause liver damage when taken alone, but when combined with a small-to-moderate amount of alcohol, it can produce a 123 percent increased risk of kidney disease, according to a newer preliminary study.
In short, that could mean implications for cold and flu products that contain alcohol—including those that contain 25 percent alcohol, according to their labels, even though the alcohol is indicated as an “inactive ingredient.” Inactive or not, the amount of alcohol can still register as “alcohol,” since blood alcohol content sources cannot be differentiated by a Breathalyzer, for example. That is according to David Hansen, Ph.D., who says, “Laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while intoxicated do not distinguish between blood alcohol content that comes from drinking alcoholic beverages or from medication.”
And while both chronic acetaminophen and alcohol use have separately been implicated in kidney disease, the use of both together has the potential of increasing the risk for kidney disease. It appears that alcohol interferes with the gene that regulates the way the body uses acetaminophen. Again, this is not a strike against the use of acetaminophen, but is for increasing awareness of its use and possible side effects and interactions.
So, if you use acetaminophen for the flu, a cold, pain relief and more, then what can you do? Some ways to fight the flu and colds naturally include drinking plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated; eating homemade chicken soup (studies say it helps with upper respiratory symptoms); getting plenty of rest; using a humidifier; gargling with warm salt water; using ginger, zinc or zinc lozenges and elderberry.
For pain relief, eating a diet that supports healthy inflammation is key, including a diet rich in cold-water fish or other foods rich in omega-3s such as flaxseed or chia seed; as well as nuts; seeds; some fruits; and veggies such as greens. Stay away from flour and sugar, however. Regular use of extra virgin olive oil with oleocanthal (which has been shown, in higher amounts, to be as effective as ibuprofen for pain), turmeric, bromelain (an enzyme) and fish oils can also fight against pain.
If flu fever—or colds and more—have you down, and you want to avoid acetaminophen, then look into these natural ways to fight flus and colds and all that comes along with them.