A recent medical article gave me pause for thought. The article concerned the painkiller acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol), and possible liver damage…
It is estimated that Americans take over 8 billion pills of Tylenol every year, making it the most commonly used painkiller in the United States.
You may know that the recommended maximum adult dose is 4,000 mg a day, which represents two extra-strength Tylenols taken four times during the course of the day. What you may not realize however, is that taking a single dose of 7,000 to 10,000 mg of acetaminophen (the equivalent of 14 to 20 extra-strength Tylenol tablets), can actually cause liver damage in a healthy adult. Smaller amounts, even as little as 3 or 4 grams taken as a single dose, have even been reported to cause severe liver damage in some people, and even death.
The study, Acetaminophen Induced Hepatotoxicity, discusses the potentially fatal liver damage that occurs when taking relatively small amounts of this medication. What got me thinking about this is that a nutrient known as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is considered an antidote, and is actually the preferred treatment to prevent this potentially fatal disorder.
NAC works by indirectly replacing an important nutrient in the body called glutathione. N-acetylcysteine is typically most effective when taken within 12 to 16 hours after the acetaminophen. However, this life-saving nutrient is also very effective even when taken later than that. In one British study, patients who had already suffered liver failure and were then given N-acetylcysteine were actually more likely to survive, than patients who did not receive the antidote.
This month, a research journal published a study about NAC. In the study, human fibroblasts (cells made up of connective-tissue that release proteins) were treated with rays of ultraviolet A and B, along with visible irradiation, which caused DNA damage. The fibroblasts were then exposed to NAC, which significantly reduced the overall levels of DNA damage. The researchers felt that NAC may protect cells directly, by eliminating free radicals (highly reactive compounds that interfere with cells’ ability to function normally, and cause health problems), and increasing glutathione levels.
In an article published last year in a cancer journal, a group of smokers participated in a randomized, double-blinded (in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters are aware), placebo-controlled study. Twenty participants received 1,200 mg daily of NAC for six months, while another 21 individuals received a placebo during that time. Certain cancer markers were then studied. It was found that those individuals treated with NAC had a reduction in certain cancer-associated biomarkers (chemicals which are useful for measuring either the progress of a disease or treatment).
Finally, in another study out of Stanford a few years ago, concerning AIDS patients, it was found that those with high glutathione levels had a three-year 60–80% survival rate, compared to only 20% survival for those who had low glutathione levels. In the second part of this study, patients randomly received either NAC or placebos. Those patients receiving NAC had a significant survival advantage over those receiving placebos.
Glutathione is an extremely powerful antioxidant. Due to the nature of its metabolism, it can’t be effective when taken orally, but is instead increased by such nutrients as N-acetylcysteine. Elevated glutathione levels appear to enhance immune function, help with elimination of carcinogens and toxins. They also help with protein synthesis (building up chemical compounds), and prostaglandin and DNA synthesis and repair.
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