Tylenol reduces emotions, empathy and risk aversion

Current research on acetaminophen (Tylenol) is establishing the frightening fact that taking Tylenol has serious, and socially significant, effects on your brain and your personality.

A flurry of recent studies is breaking new ground in the study of Tylenol side effects. We already know that there are serious physical side effects. Though people pop Tylenol without worry like candy—23% of Americans take Tylenol each week—so toxic is Tylenol to your liver that it is the leading cause of acute liver failure (Hepatology 2005;42:1364-72). Even short-term use of acetaminophen, if taken at the maximum recommended daily dose, stresses the liver (JAMA 2006;296:87-93; BMJ 2015;350:h1225).

What We Knew
But the new research is showing that Tylenol has equally serious psychological side effects. Previous research has uncovered the unexpected and disturbing side effect that Tylenol blunts your emotions. The double-blind study gave either 1,000mg of acetaminophen or a placebo and then waited one hour for the Tylenol to enter the brain. The researchers then showed pictures of positive and negative events to the people in the study. People who took the Tylenol evaluated unpleasant events less negatively and pleasant events less positively than did people who took the placebo. The Tylenol takers also rated positive and negative events as less emotionally arousing than did the people who got the placebo. The researchers of this disturbing study concluded that acetaminophen has a general blunting effect on people. Tylenol dulls human emotions (BMJ 2015;350:h1225).

Then a second scary study came out. It found that, though it is intended to kill your pain, Tylenol kills your ability to feel other people’s pain. Tylenol is more of an empathy killer than it is a pain killer. This second double-blind study gave 114 undergraduate students either a placebo or 1,000mg of Tylenol.  An hour later, they read stories about the uplifting experiences of other people. Upon reading the stories, their responses were evaluated in order to evaluate their ability to empathize with others. The shocking finding was that Tylenol significantly reduced the pleasure they felt at other people’s pleasure and significantly reduced empathic feelings. They were able to perceive that the people in the story felt positive or felt pleasure, unlike the placebo group, they just did not empathize or feel pleasure for them. This result led the researchers to label Tylenol a “social analgesic.” The researchers speculate that this psychological soul blunting effect of Tylenol may be because the part of the brain that Tylenol affects to blunt your feeling of pain may be the same part of the brain that is used to feel other people’s pain. They concluded that Tylenol reduces empathy for the pleasurable experiences of others and that this finding may raise serious concerns about the impact taking Tylenol has on society (Front Psychol 2019;10:538). Another study arrived at the same empathy killing results (Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016; 11(9): 1345–1353)

What’s New
Now a forth study adds to the evidence for the psychological and social implications of taking Tylenol. The double-blind study again gave either a placebo or 1.000mg of Tylenol to university students. The ones who were taking the Tylenol seemed to lose their risk aversion. When asked to rate the riskiness of daring things like bungee jumping, taking a skydiving class, walking home alone at night in an unsafe area, the ones taking the Tylenol rated them as less risky. The researchers said that while taking Tylenol, people seem to feel less negative emotion: “they just don’t feel as scared.”

Part two of the study landed on the same scary result. The people on Tylenol were way bigger risk takers on a computer simulation of risk taking. The people taking Tylenol were less risk-averse. They have less anxiety and negative emotion about risk. The researchers reiterate that these results “could have important effects on society” (Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2020;nsaa108).

Taken together, these four studies are painting a scary picture with important psychological and sociological implications for a pain killer that people pop every day.

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For much more on preventing and treating pain, see our book The Family Naturopathic Encyclopedia.

For comprehensive help with pain management, make an appointment to see Linda Woolven nowLinda’s clinic is now open for virtual appointments.


The Natural Path is intended for educational purposes only and is in no way intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. For health problems, consult a qualified health practitioner for a comprehensive program.

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