Tylenol (acetaminophen) is one of the most widely used medicines on the planet, and despite the known Tylenol side effects, the prevailing medical view is that acetaminophen is perfectly safe when used properly. But is it really safe?
Is Tylenol really safe for everyone? How about for kids and infants?
Is Tylenol safe for pregnant women? Does it interfere with the development of the baby?
This article will discuss some the latest research that may help you answer these important questions. I’ll share both the known and the little known Tylenol side effects, so you can make the right decision for your family.
*Remember, I am not a doctor or scientist. I’m simply a Dad sharing some of the research I have found. It’s up to you to determine if the temporary benefit of using acetaminophen is worth risking those Tylenol side effects.
My Doctor Tells Me Tylenol Is Safe
I’ll be honest. My family stopped using acetaminophen almost a decade ago, and I do tell anyone who will listen not to use Tylenol especially with kids and infants. (and never ever never after a vaccination)
Many times I am hit with the same response. “The doctor told me to take/give my child Tylenol. They wouldn’t prescribe it if it weren’t safe.”
What we parents need to realize is that it is not our doctor’s job to stay up to date on all the current research. In fact, it’s virtually impossible for them to maintain a full time practice and read the tens of thousands of studies published every year. There’s just too much research on too many different topics for them to know everything.
Standard Of Care
It is the doctor’s job to make recommendations based on the prevailing opinion of the medical community also known as the standard of care. In our litigious, sue-happy society, doctors who disagree with these standards open themselves up to lawsuits and possible disciplinary action from their medical boards.
Therefore, it is up to us parents to know the risks of what we are giving our families, and more and more research is showing us that Tylenol may not be as safe as the medical community thinks.
Known Tylenol Side Effects
While most doctors probably do not know about the latest research, the majority can tell you the known side effects of taking acetaminophen. It’s the same ones we can read ourselves on the insert that comes with every box of Tylenol.
Common Tylenol Side Effects Include:
- Liver Damage
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Rash & Itchy Skin
- Abnormal breathing
- Muscle Spasms
It’s kind of funny how some of these side effects are the very reason we’re taking acetaminophen in the first place.
I must stress that these are the common Tylenol side effects. There are many more well-known side effects that are much more serious, and even though they are rare, they should not be ignored. Feel free to check the references at the end of this post for more on this.
Little Known Tylenol Side Effects
After reviewing the known side effects of acetaminophen, you may already be deterred from using it with your family. However, there are further considerations you may want to know about. While the side effects listed above are well accepted, they are looked at as acute or merely temporary issues. This is why most doctors believe Tylenol is perfect safe.
Unfortunately, when you dive a little deeper into acetaminophen, you learn it is even more precarious than we thought.
Really Easy To Overdose
Most so-called experts will proclaim Tylenol is very safe when used properly, but the margin of error is very small when it comes to proper use. According to a paper written by Duke and Harvard researchers, even doctors will often prescribe a higher dose than is recommended. If doctors can’t get it right, you can imagine how hard it is for worried parents.
Overdosing of Tylenol can lead to permanent liver and kidney damage, cardiovascular and GI “adverse events” *(see reference) and even death. Death from acetaminophen is rare, but it is worth noting. Overdosing Tylenol happens so frequently that more research is looking into this, and the FDA has taken measures to help reduce its occurance.
Acetaminophen Suppresses The Immune System
Most of us, myself included, think of Tylenol as being anti inflammatory. Turns out, the reverse appears to be true. It causes oxidative stress (damages cells) which then triggers inflammation.
Not only does Tylenol cause oxidative stress it depletes the body’s natural ability to fight and repair that oxidation. Glutathione is often called the body’s master antioxidant, and as its name suggests, it’s job is to prevent oxidative damage.
Studies show that Tylenol reduces glutathione. This makes sense to me because glutathione is produced by the liver, and acetaminophen is well known to be hard on the liver.
The Effect On The Brain
Acetaminophen actually shuts off part of the brain (the hypothalamus) responsible for controlling body temperature.
Of course, this is the intended effect of this drug, which is how it helps lower fevers. But, it also has unintended side effects. Acetaminophen can blunt social responses and lower IQ in healthy adults. While these are supposed to be temporary effects, it is unnerving to know that a medicine you’re taking will shut down part your brain
Tylenol Side Effects On The Developing Brain
This makes you wonder how safe it is for kids. How safe is it to shut down part of a rapidly developing and growing brain (like in infants and kids)? Studies on laboratory animals give us a reason for concern. These studies show that acetaminophen alters brain chemistry when given early in life. It appears that the risk increases the earlier Tylenol is given to infants and young children.
Alarming Concerns On Using Tylenol For Babies & Young Kids
Dr. William Parker and his team of researchers from Harvard and Duke University conducted a critical review on the role of acetaminophen and its effects on the child’s developing brain. They reviewed thousands of papers concerning acetaminophen use during pregnancy, in babies, and young children.
The team originally focused on 12 (now 16) different studies allowing them to control for confounding factors and well-conducted, well-designed studies. Dr. Parker summarizes his team’s conclusions in one alarming statement: “no study found acetaminophen (Tylenol) to be safe for the developing brain”.
In other words, all studies found something to be wrong with Tylenol use early in life. It’s important to note that this critical review is a peer reviewed study.
Kids who were given Tylenol at an early age or in utero exhibited many troubling issues later in life. Unlike the known Tylenol side effects, these problems were not temporary. Dr. Parker and his team observed:
- Lowered IQ
- Social & Behavioral Problems
- Increased ADHD Rates
- Increased Autism Rates
Not all kids who have taken Tylenol will develop these issues, and these issues are not solely caused by Tylenol. There is simply an increased risk of developing them.
Hear From Dr. Parker
I’ll be interviewing Dr. William Parker about his research on my podcast- The Happy Healthy Family Podcast. Make sure you subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, so you can get that episode as soon as its released. (November/December 2018)
Acetaminophen & Vaccinations
The vaccine-autism connection is one of the most polarizing debates in America today. Parents have been reporting that vaccines have caused their child’s autism for many years.
Dr. Parker believes that parent observations should not be ignored and there must be a connection.
In his opinion, the autism-vaccine connection may have more to do with the Tylenol given before and after the shots than the vaccination itself. This is just his hypothesis and needs further research to test, but at the very least it’s a HUGE reason not to give Tylenol to your child right before or after their scheduled shots.
The Next Step
Dr. Parker believes the next step is to conduct a study in which acetaminophen is completely removed from the equation, and see what happens. Their hypothesis is that these issue will decline dramatically.
It’s worth repeating. No study found acetaminophen to be safe for infants and kids. It appears to be neurotoxic to the developing brain. This may be because their livers are not developed well enough to fully break down Tylenol, and thus it enters the brain and causes damage.
What Do We Do For Kids Fever?
As I said earlier, I tell anyone that will listen to stay clear of Tylenol. For me, the risk is too great and the potential long term damage too severe. If your child develops a fever, then what do you do without Tylenol? Honestly, I just let it be.
No Reason To Fear A Fever
Fevers are not something that we need to be scared of (for the most part). In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “fevers generally do not require treatment and a fever up to 105 degrees is not in itself harmful”.
Fevers are a normal part of the immune response. It’s a sign the immune system is working as it should, and it may even be critical in fighting whatever infection your child may have.
If you suppress the fever, you could be suppressing the immune system as well. By suppressing the immune system, you may be extending the illness for your child.
Having said that, I know we as parents we tend to really worry, and we want to do anything within our power to help our kids feel better. There are things we can do to help them feel more comfortable.
Treating A Fever Without Medicine
- Give Plenty Of Rest, Fluids, & Electrolytes
- Sponging, or A Lukewarm Bath
- Peppermint Oil (properly diluted with a carrier oil like coconut applied to the neck and spine)
- Support The Immune System (elderberry, echinacea, Vitamin C, & D…etc)
The full recommendations of the APA can be found here, but keep in mind that they still recommend using acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.
What About Pain, Teething, or Colic?
Many parents give Tylenol to help relieve pain especially that associated with teething or unexplained crying (colic). It appears that Tylenol may not be as effective as a pain reliever as once thought. (see references)
I know a lot of parents who say that Tylenol was the only thing that made him stop crying or helped her sleep. I don’t think that was because it relieved their pain (it could be). Maybe it has more to do with Tylenol’s effect on the brain and part of the brain being shut down for a few hours.
Who Are You Really Helping?
Keep this in mind. When we give Tylenol to our babies (and I was guilty of this too), is it really for their benefit? We may justify it by saying it’s for their good or to help them feel better, but with all these potential risks, is it really for them? Or is it more to help us parents?
After all, a screaming, crying, sleepless baby is incredibly stressful. I’ve linked a few articles at the end of this post that give you ideas on how to treat these issues naturally and help both the child and the parents find relief.
What About Ibuprofen?
I do still give my kids ibuprofen for severe pain and inflammation. However, I usually let the fever run its course. Ibuprofen can have some GI side effects and cause leaky gut, so we use it sparingly. For more information on NSAIDS (ibuprofen) you can check out this article from Dr. Axe. https://draxe.com/dangers-of-nsaids/
There are plenty of known Tylenol side effects and an increasing amount of evidence saying that it is toxic to the developing brain. For our family, this is enough for us to completely avoid anything with acetaminophen (see link below for a list of over the counter products containing acetaminophen).
Again, the choice whether or not to give Tylenol to your family is yours. I hope that I have given you sufficient evidence to help you make an informed decision.
- Duke & Harvard Research On Acetaminophen Exposure in Pregnancy & Early Childhood. (Dr. William Parker) many more references found in this study
- Acetaminophen Impact On Glutathione
- How does acetaminophen work? We still don’t know.
- Adverse Events
- Mama Natural article on dealing with colic naturally.
- Wellness Mama Pain Relief For Teething
- Mama Natural Pain Relief For Teething Babies
- Tylenol Side Effects
- Tylenol Side Effects Drugs.com
- Brand Names Containing Acetaminophen: