While celebrating my (physically healthy) Mom’s 80th birthday at home this past weekend, I visited with her friend, Janine, an artist. She mentioned to me that her medicine, once helpful for her “sore, stiff hands and wrists,” did not seem to be working as well as it once had. At first, it had helped her paint for longer periods and she was elated, but that effect apparently had now “worn off.” I asked Janine what she was taking and she stated Tylenol Arthritis formula, which her internist had suggested for the inflammation causing the pain.
The nutritionist in me wanted to leap into my spiel about an anti-inflammatory diet, low sugar, curcumin, fish oil, etc., but I knew this lady to be a dedicated allopathic patient, unwilling to change. I suggested that she read about Tylenol and how it can CAUSE inflammation in the liver over time. She looked at me with wide, disbelieving eyes, but I wagered that her concern and curiosity would win out.
Inflammation is a natural process designed to help our immune system heal an acute injury. Capillaries “leak” healing leukocytes and their various chemicals, like prostaglandins (often made from the pro-inflammatory fatty acid, arachidonic acid), to the injured area, causing swelling and redness. These signs, like generalized fever, indicate that the appropriate immune response is underway. (Sometimes, in cases of autoimmune disorders, the immune system attacks normal tissues, but that’s another discussion.) Therefore, too much anti-inflammatory intervention can delay healing of acute insults. However, in the case of long-term chronic inflammation this natural process goes awry and people will seek relief.
Acetaminophen (mainly sold as Tylenol) is the most commonly used analgesic/antipyretic drug in the WORLD. It has long been the “trusted” pain reliever in American hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, and home medicine cabinets. It’s a proven pain reliever for acute injury/soreness/aches and an effective fever-buster (impressing many moms). As an anti-inflammatory drug, however, it fails. (A competing OTC medication, the cyclooxygenase-1-inhibiting drug, ibuprofen, does suppress inflammatory prostaglandins. But instead of hepatitis, ibuprofen promotes gastric ulcer; pick your poison!) We know that most drugs come with a long list of damaging side effects, especially with extended use. But TV ads for analgesics keep selling effectively to a hurting population. Toxicity reports of Tylenol’s active ingredient are rising, however. Acetaminophen is found in countless other OTC and prescription drugs; therefore, many pain sufferers are not aware of how much acetaminophen they are actually getting. This fact makes it one of the most common drugs involved in accidental poisoning. With Janine’s Tylenol Arthritis formula, overdosing is less likely to be discovered or properly treated because of its extended release, causing bi-phasic, prolonged absorption (Graudins A et al. NZ Med J, Aug 2009, p. 64).
Today, a constant onslaught of chemical toxicity, stressors, nutritional misbehaviors and the like set up a kind of perpetual pro-inflammatory state in our tissues. For supportive care, we can tap into nature’s answers to prevent and control inflammation. It helps tremendously over time simply to lower “pro-inflammatory” fat and carbohydrate sources (conventional fatty meat, all processed versions such as vegetable shortening, trans fats, sweets, chips) in favor of omega-3-rich fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, plus beans, quinoa, root vegetables, dark green leafy veggies, and low-carb fruits like berries, cherries, and apples.
I happen to know that Janine is a BBQ pork fan and hates fish. Oh well. Maybe she’ll switch to low-dose ibuprofen. That may be the best we can hope for right now!
Terry A. Pollock, MS
PS - Fatty acid testing can help guide anyone’s intake of healthier fats, which is so crucial to making balanced amounts of the prostaglandins mentioned above. We can tilt our biochemistry in favor of OR against chronic inflammation by optimizing fatty acids.