Acetaminophen is an ingredient in dozens of over-the-counter drugs: image via paleodiethouston.wordpress.com For several years now, warnings about the risk of liver disease have been issued on Tylenol and the many other drugs that contain acetaminophen, and yet acetaminophen is still the most widely prescribed and used pain reliever in the world. Though this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limited prescription doses of acetaminophen to 325 mg per tablet, the over-the-counter drugs still contain doses between 500 and 700 mg.
But wait. There may be a benefit to men who take daily, small doses of acetaminophen over a long period of time. At least that's what a very extensive study of prostate cancer incidence among acetaminophen users indicates.
Epidemiologists from the American Cancer Society followed 78,485 men in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. Information on acetaminophen use was taken in 1992, 1997, and every two years after, to accumulate data for proportional hazards regression models.
The models were adjusted for age, race, education, body mass index, diabetes, NSAID use, and history of prostate antigen testing. The results indicate that among regular acetaminophen users (30 pills per month), for 5 or more years, there was a overall 38 percent lower risk for prostate cancer, as well as a significantly lower risk of acquiring aggressive prostate cancer.
"While the results of this observational study suggest that long-term regular
acetaminophen use may be associated with lower prostate cancer risk, our
findings require replication by other studies, and do not justify use of
acetaminophen to prevent prostate cancer. Acetaminophen is considered relatively
safe when used at recommended doses but unintentional acetaminophen overdose is
an important cause of acute liver failure." said Dr. Jacobs. "Still, results of
this study could lead to further research on acetaminophen that might provide
biological insights about the process of prostate cancer development and how
this process could be slowed."
It is important to remember that the incidents in which liver failure occurred as a result of acetaminophen use, acetaminophen was used in large doses, overused, or abused. Use of alcohol, which is strongly contraindicated during acetaminophen use, may have been a significant contributor to liver disease in some of the reported cases. Certainly, any history of liver problems, such as hepatitis, would contraindicate acetaminophen for pain relief or cold relief, but who reads all the contents on their cold medicines?
Perhaps, researchers will find that taking an acetaminophen a day, say 325 mg, like taking an aspirin a day, could prove to be a valuable contribution to men's health. I hope it will be found to be at least as safe as six cups of coffee a day,
Sources: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention via EurekAlert, Medscape, MSNBC