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.
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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