Take Tylenol and Turn Cantankerous

Who knew?  When you take Tylenol, you stop caring about other people.

Well, not exactly.  But close.  But a new study has found that when you take acetaminophen, you don’t feel others’ pain as much.

Turns out when we're seeking relief from pain, we may also be decreasing our empathy for both the physical and social aches that other people experience, according to newswise.com. 

Researchers at The Ohio State University found, for example, that when participants who took acetaminophen learned about the misfortunes of others, they thought these individuals experienced less pain and suffering,when compared to those who took no painkiller.

“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” says Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and a former Ph.D. student at Ohio State, now at the National Institutes of Health.  “Acetaminophen can reduce empathy as well as serve as a painkiller.”

Acetaminophen – the main ingredient in the painkiller Tylenol – is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, found in more than 600 medicines, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group.

Each week about 23 percent of American adults (about 52 million people) use a medicine containing acetaminophen, the CHPA reports, the web site notes.

In an earlier study, other colleagues found that acetaminophen also blunts positive emotions like joy.

 Say what?

In one part of the study experiment, college students received four two-second blasts of white noise that ranged from 75 to 105 decibels. They then rated the noise blasts on a scale of 1 (not unpleasant at all) to 10 (extremely unpleasant). Some students were given acetaminophen first, while others weren't.

Results showed that, when compared to those who didn't take acetaminophen, participants who took the drug rated the noise blasts as less unpleasant for themselves – and also thought they would be less unpleasant for others.

“Acetaminophen reduced the pain they felt, but it also reduced their empathy for others who were experiencing the same noise blasts,” Mischkowski says.

It all boils down to parts of the brain. 

A 2004 study scanned the brains of people as they were experiencing pain and while they were imagining other people feeling the same pain. Those results showed that the same part of the brain was activated in both cases.

“In light of those results, it is understandable why using Tylenol to reduce your pain may also reduce your ability to feel other people’s pain as well,” he concludes.


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