I have many people come into the office and tell me how many prescriptions they take. For some, there are well over 7 medications taken on a daily basis. For others, they just say they take acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen daily to help manage pain. I think it is far too common for people to just take these types of over-the-counter medications and not even think about how many they may be taking at a time or over the course of a day. Over time, these medications can cause issues in the body, some irreversible to the point that they have permanent stomach or even liver damage and can’t take these medications anymore. This has prompted me to do this podcast.
Many people don’t know about the dangers of taking too many of these over-the-counter drugs and what they can do – until it’s too late. But let’s first talk about the importance of the liver and why we need to take care of it.
First, it is the largest organ in the body and is on our right side, right beneath the rib cage. It does more than 600 essential jobs and plays a key role in the body by eliminating many toxins, such as alcohol and medications. It also metabolizes carbohydrates (basically, breaking them down to make energy) and produces bile, an essential element for digestion. The liver also stores Vitamins A, D, E, and K and energy from carbs. It also helps our immune system fight against infection. So again, our liver is very important.
Did you know this organ can regenerate itself? Even though this is the case, it can become damaged. Some things that can damage the liver are alcohol use, conditions such as fatty liver disease and hepatitis C, cancer, and drug use. We are going to focus on the damage that can come from using too many over-the-counter pain medications, namely acetaminophen.
Many of us know that acetaminophen is in many medications, but do you know how easy it is to overdose on it? It is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Health.
Just taking more than 2 grams of acetaminophen in 24 hours can cause damage and this can be exacerbated by taking it with alcohol. Tylenol is the most common form but it also comes in many other medications, which again, make it so easy to overdose on. As a matter of fact, it is an ingredient in over 600 prescription and OTC drugs. Some common names are Tylenol/Tylenol PM, Percocet, Midol, Sudafed, and Nyquil, to name a few.
Getting to 2 grams of acetaminophen a day is not hard to do. One extra-strength Tylenol has 500 mg of acetaminophen. If one takes 4 of these a day, that equals 2,000 mg. If that same person adds a cold, cough, or even an allergy medication to that which includes acetaminophen, one can easily exceed the recommended daily limit. Acetaminophen overdose is the largest reason people call poison control throughout the country every year.
As a matter of fact, unintentional overdoses due to taking 2 or more products containing acetaminophen at the same time account for 40% of all people who suffer from acute liver failure.
What’s more, the effects of long-term use of acetaminophen have not been studied much and guidelines are weak. Some things you can do to avoid an overdose:
- Read all ingredients on the labels of all medication – prescribed or OTC
- Don’t take more than is directed
- Don’t take more than one medicine at a time when both contain acetaminophen
- Don’t drink alcohol when taking any medication that includes acetaminophen
- If you have nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, sweating after taking acetaminophen, call poison control
Here are some signs of liver damage. If you have any of these, you need to seek medical advice:
- Abdominal aches and pains – any unexplained pain in the upper right abdomen. The pain could range from a dull ache to a sharp, stabbing pain.
- Pain in the back – there are many things that can cause this type of pain. Usually liver damage that causes back pain is from fatty liver disease – a state where cells in the liver accumulate fat. This causes inflammation, and the pain from that can radiate into the back.
- Pain in the right shoulder – when the liver is inflamed, it can push on nerves that extend into the right shoulder. If you have other signs such as those already mentioned along with shoulder pain, it could be from your liver.
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin – this happens when the liver can’t dispose of bilirubin (a by-product of old blood cells being broken down, which has a yellowish tint). When this happens, the bilirubin collects in the bloodstream and gives eyes and skin this color.
- Pain in the joints – obviously, there are many things that can cause this type of pain. But if you suffer with Hepatitis C, you could also develop inflammatory joint disease.
- Spots on the skin – these can look like red or purplish spots that extend outward. They are swollen blood vessels and represent issues with clotting. If you have 3 or more, see a medical professional.
- Mental confusion – this can range from losing train of thought easily to forgetting who people are or words to use. This is due to high levels of copper that can build up in the bloodstream and brain. If you have this along with other symptoms we have mentioned, go see a medical professional.
- Odd colored stool – if is different than what you would normally experience, it could mean your liver has issues. It can range from lighter to darker in color.
- Fluid retention in abdomen – if you have an achy or painful abdomen, it could mean there is increased blood flow to the liver.
- Highly unpleasant breath – many things can cause this (tobacco, sinus issues, tooth decay, and more) but if damage has become severe, it can cause halitosis.
Bottom line, protect your liver and the rest of you. Be careful of how many of these over-the-counter pain medications you are taking and keep your liver healthy. Try to seek out alternatives to these medications and don’t add to your chemical intake. We get enough of that just by being in our environment each day (from exhaust fumes, smells from various chemicals, perfumes, cleaners, and much more).
Really, we all need to focus on what causes our pain to begin with and not just take a pill for a possible “quick fix”. That is one thing we try to do at Total You Health is get to the root cause of health issues by using non-toxic solutions that heal on a cellular level.
If you don’t know any other alternatives to these medications and are in the area, come by and let us talk to you about our alternatives. Even if you are not in our area, there is something new to Total You Health that we can discuss one-on-one with you and show you some self-care options via Zoom. Either way, we are here to try to help you heal from within.