Monday, August 20, 2012

The Med Beat: You Can't Hurt Me Now!

You Can't Hurt Me Now!
(Or Can You...?)
Kurtis Morrish

Ouch! Painkillers may hurt you more than you think.

First, to get in the mood, listen to the Rolling Stone's "Sister Morphine". Good, now that you remember the feeling of being in pain and wanting any kind of numbness possible, read on!

They’re so easy to buy, take, and forget about. They come in brightly-labeled, well-trusted packaging, are name-brand recognizable, and are easy to swallow with the help of a little water. Almost all of us have used them at some point in our lives; they are our (drum roll!)...........

                              over-the-counter painkillers!

But what do they do to our bodies?
What is happening inside, other than relieving pain?

Conventional over-the-counter painkillers come in many forms and doses. It is important to know what’s in the drugs you are taking. Most of us are used to casually taking a couple Tylenol pills in the morning to help with a headache (hangover?), or perhaps some Midol to relieve pain and bloating during your period. These drugs are generally safe, otherwise they wouldn’t be so readily available at your pharmacy or even grocery store, BUT they can be bad for you if used incorrectly or carelessly.

Let’s take a look at Tylenol. The term ‘household name’ has never been more appropriate; Tylenol is everywhere and used by almost everyone. Its main pain-relieving ingredient is acetaminophen, which is effective to some degree at what it does (reducing pain as well as fevers, coughs, and cold symptoms) but also not the best thing to be loading into your body.

Just like soda is made of a lot of ingredients, so are pain relieving drugs. For people with diabetes, for example, it is not necessarily the soda that is unhealthy for them, but the sugar in the soda that does them harm. It's the same for many pain killers; it is the ingredients we have to watch out for!

Acetaminophen is found in many other popular pain relief drugs and is listed right on the drugs' label. However, most of us do not read the label of a drug we’ve become so accustomed to taking, and so, never bother reading what is actually in those little pills. This habit can be dangerous.  Acetaminophen has serious side effects if taken to excess. Acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver failure, which is often related to cases where a patient overdoses without even knowing it. This happens because other substances, such as alcohol and caffeine, exacerbate the liver damage incurred by acetaminophen, or because people take Tylenol with other drugs without even realizing that the other drugs are just more acetaminophen!

Now let’s take a look at Midol. This famous blue and white pill is a favorite for relieving the cramps and bloating that unfortunately accompany menstruation. As effective as it might be, Midol contains both acetaminophen and caffeine. As mentioned before, the combination of these substances at has been shown in some studies to increase the strain on the liver as they are broken down in your body. Having said that, Midol is safe, and generally an effective drug. But remember that your liver has to process everything you put into it, so be careful! Don't drink too much coffee or caffeinated beverages while taking Midol. Keep track of how much of a pain killer you consume, and space it out as the package "directions" describe. And, don't use the pills unless you really need them!

As I said, but must repeat because this is of the utmost importance: try to avoid exceeding the medicine’s recommended daily dose. And be conscious of the other things you put in your body that might interact with the drugs you take. It may not always be obvious, but many substances do not mix well even if we've never suspected it!

Another popular painkiller, which people use for everything from headaches to blood thinning, is Advil. Advil’s main component is ibuprofen, which is much less harmful to your liver and kidneys than acetaminophen but it is still not 100% harmless. When taken to excess, ibuprofen can have
disastrous effects on your stomach, which can have long-term serious repercussions.

Aleve is also widely used for pain relief, reducing inflammation and bringing down a fever, but it too can hurt you if not used carefully. Aleve is often used in much lower doses than either Tylenol or Advil, and yet many people perceive it to be almost the same as any other painkiller,
taking two or three as they please. This is not the way to use any drug. Always read the instructions before taking any form of medication, and be sure to check with your doctor if you are thinking about taking heavy doses or taking a pill for an extended period of time (anything longer
than four days). Be conscious of the drugs you are mixing, and never exceed the daily-recommended amounts.

Painkillers are a wonderful invention. Their variety and tested effectiveness allow many of us to escape activity-limiting pain and live our lives to a fuller extent. Just don’t forget to use them in moderation; sometimes less is more.

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about specific painkillers or other drugs you may be using. Or, email . This will be forwarded to me, and I will respond accordingly! 

Go check those meds!

Also check out some of these helpful links for more information on painkillers:

Medical Section Columnist, Kurtis Morrish:

My name is Kurtis Morrish. I graduated from Cal last year as an Integrative Biology major. I am now in the process of applying to medical school in the hopes of one day serving people as a family doctor. By no means do I write to you as an M.D., but I have extensive experience doing all kinds of scientific research; boiling-down long, dry, mumbo-jumbo-dense medical journals into a reduction that is a little sweeter, useful, and hopefully informative for you. I hope to learn as much from my writing as you do, so please hit me up with further questions, concerns, or comments!


Cassandra Riley said...

So, sorry to get specific on you, but how much caffeine does Midol have in it? How much coffee should I be avoiding?

Also, a couple girlfriends of mine take Midol to lose weight. Does it even help with this and how bad is it for them?

Thanks for the info!! Super helpful. I've been reading every label!

Anonymous said...

Midol is NOT a safe weight loss drug, it contains 60 mg of caffeine, 500 mg of acetaminophen and 15 mg of pyrilamine maleate (antihistamine). Other products offered by Midol are essentially Advil (Midol Liquid Gels) and Aleve (Midol Extended Relief).

Acetaminophen has no weight loss properties, so if your friends are using it for weight loss, it is mechanistically the same as caffeine pills, except that it contains excess amounts of acetaminophen. If you friends are doubling or tripling the dose of Midol for the increased caffeine, then they are consuming dangerously high amounts of acetaminophen. Alcohol, as mentioned in the article will make the situation significantly worse for their livers but increasing production of the toxic metabolic byproducts of acetaminophen. I would not use Midol for a weight loss and would strongly urge anyone I cared about not to either, pharmaceutical weight loss methods can be VERY dangerous and damaging to vital organs.

Maybe an article article on common and unsafe weight loss practices would be a good future article for the blog...

Unleashed Magazine News Central said...

Thank you so much for your response. We will be creating an article concerning unsafe weight loss soon. An article to be published next wednesday's Ripple Effect will briefly touch on tape worm weight loss as well.

Stay tuned, and keep sending in comments!

Again, Unleashed's email is :

Just in case :).