Popular OTC Drugs Linked to Alzheimer’s risk

If you ask your family doctor if taking acetaminophen can increase Alzheimer’s risk, he might actually laugh in your face.

Acetaminophen is one of the most-used and most trusted analgesics on the market. Sure, there’s a risk of liver and kidney damage with an overdose. But when taken as directed, how could it possibly cause Alzheimer’s?

I’ll tell you how…

A Little History

Acetaminophen first was introduced in the 1880s. Another similar drug called phenacetin came along at the same time and was used extensively during a 1889 flu pandemic. But phenacetin is even more toxic to the kidneys than acetaminophen, so acetaminophen became the preferred drug.

The first Alzheimer’s disease cases were diagnosed about ten years later.

Of course, that’s just circumstantial evidence. But toward the end of the 20th century, pieces began falling into place.

Researchers had noticed an apparent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s among arthritis patients. Eventually, they understood that excessive free radical activity causes inflammation that destroys brain neurons–and, of course, that inflammation is curbed in arthritis patients who take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) daily.

So when researchers investigated Alzheimer’s risk among NSAIDs users in the late 1990s, they weren’t surprised to find that NSAIDs use was linked to reduced AD risk. But they WERE surprised by a marked INCREASE in AD risk among people who frequently used acetaminophen for two years or more.

Further investigation showed that acetaminophen decreased levels of an important brain antioxidant. When that antioxidant is depleted, free radical activity is increased and sets off damaging inflammation.

For now, it looks like a normal dose of acetaminophen for an occasional headache or fever won’t increase AD risk. But frequent use appears to be a problem. And researchers say that patients with liver or kidney damage are at even greater risk, especially if they’ve also been exposed to mercury and aluminum–two heavy metals we’re ALL exposed to.

A quick note on NSAIDs is necessary: The AD protection is wonderful, but daily use of NSAID drugs create a high risk of serious adverse side effects. Omega-3 fatty acids provide a much safer way to curb inflammation.



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Jenny Thompson

Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.

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Please let us know what you think about this article. All comments will be moderated before being posted publicly.


  1. Lori says

    Tom – we all need to supplement to maintain adequate levels of D3. There is very little in food. You’ve disagreed with me before about fats – which is fine – so maybe we just need to agree to disagree. Slow cooking of meat is the best way to cook it. But I don’t believe eggs should be eaten raw for the best nutrient outcome. I’ve mentioned before about Richard Wranger’s book Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human. And you might consider Weston A. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. I’m a nutrition educator (not that that means anything) except that I’ve worked with type 2 diabetics that have reversed their insulin problems by including more good fats (many “cooked”) and protein, while minimizing grains. If we eat small amounts of grain in their truly whole form, or sprouted, that’s one thing. But I believe that cereals, pastas, breads, etc should be avoided even they are “whole grain”. Once the grain is processed, as it is in those foods, it loses nutrients. In my opinion, we have fats all wrong, while worshipping grains. This has become our pattern for the last 40 to 50 years and the incidence of chronic diseases continues to grow exponentially.

  2. says

    Lori– eggs contain about 25 IU’s of D3 so you’d have to eat 24 of them just to get the pitifully low new RDA of 600 IU. Plus, eggs are only healthy if they’re eaten RAW, and only if they come from free-ranging chickens eating their natural diet.

    Disagree with you on fats. Cooking at temperatures above 160 degrees converts fatty acids from their natural cis form into trans fats (very bad). Unless you are willing to eat your organic grass fed beef RAW (or slow cook it at low heat) you are congesting your cells with unhealthy fat. This in turn impedes cellular function, most notably with regard to glucose metabolism. Eliminating COOKED fats from the diet lowers insulin resistance tremendously in just a few weeks. Moderate consumption of whole grains can be part of a healthy diet. You are villainizing grains unnecessarily.

  3. Rusty says

    I have been on a low-dose (88) regimen for over 10 yrs. Does this put me at risk of Alsheimers? Am 80 yrs. old and have become aware of memory lapses.

  4. Wondering Woman says

    There used to be a popular pain medicine called ACP which stood for the 3 ingredients: aspirin, phenacetin and codeine.
    It was pulled off the market because the phenacetin was found to be toxic to we human beings.

    Within the last year or so I read an article which said that our bodies convert acetaminophen into phenacetin. Sounds like the old switch like the FDA has been doing on aspartame and monosodium glutamate since the 60’s. You just put the same toxic substance back into the food chain or medicinals under a different name. The sheep are still being killed off by the same toxin, but unaware of it because it is introduced under a different name.

    Anyone else besides me wondering just how long the new world order “elitists” have been working at reducing the population worldwide by scientific manipulation with our food supplies and medications?

  5. John A Hackett says

    Acetophenamin depletes the body of Glutathione an important anti oxidant. Overdoses of Acetophenamin cause multiple deaths each year due to this Glutathione depletion and liver toxicity. N-Acetyl Cysteine is a well established antidote for Acetophenamin overdoses.
    The obvious solution to this major health problem is to sell only Acetaphenamin formulated with N-Acetyl Cysteine which restores the bodies Glutathione levels . This will also reduce the risk of AD. As we age our antioxidant levels diminish making anti oxidant supplements such as N-Acetyl Cysteine , Ascorbic acid etc etc important.

    Good Health


  6. Lori says

    It’s all about fat. That’s right, fat. If we get plenty of good fat in our diets, our inflammation is down, so we don’t have to worry about pain relievers. Fat keeps our tissues soft and well lubricated, which is exactly how the brain should be. D3 deficiency is directly related to low glutathione levels, and food sources of D3 are fats (although we really need to get sun AND supplement). K2, which prevents calcification of soft tissue (watch those caclcium supplements!) is also found in fats (unless we’re eating a bunch of fermented beans and veggies). An egg yolk, for example, contains all of the vitamin A, D3, K2, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, etc in the egg. Why would we ditch it? Cholesterol? No, no, no, we need that too! The sources of the fat we eat are really important, and ideally should be from grass fed animals and wild fish. We should never eat low-fat versions of real fat foods. We should minimize vegetable oils (eat the nuts and seeds). Olive oil is very beneficial as we know, but it shouldn’t be heated. Any vegetable oil heated beyond its flash point will cause inflammation. We should ditch the flour, sugar, and refined grains as they are highly inflammatory. We’re being lied to in terms of “healthy” eating. The food pyramid and the dietary guidelines are misleading (most of it’s just plain wrong). If we want to prevent inflammation and/or any kind of brain problem, eat the fat, ditch the grains and vegetable oils, get plenty of D3, move more, enjoy a glass of wine, and laugh alot. It works.

  7. Anonymous says

    All these lies and deceits, we were asked to avoid all the healthy fats, that is the reason we are so deficient in many vitamins and minerals, now we have to supplement heavily to bring ideal levels to par, if we never listened to these so called experts we would never be in the mess we are in, but we know who is doing everything possible to keep us sick so they can line their pocket with money, right.
    You only get one guess. JAM

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