Is this popular painkiller destroying your sense of empathy?

Do you take popular painkillers like Tylenol or Excedrin? Then you’re putting acetaminophen in your body.

This might help relieve your head/body aches or even fevers. But it might also have an unintended side effect.

That’s because acetaminophen, the most-popular drug ingredient in America, was shown in a new study to decrease a person’s sense of empathy.

Empathy is our ability to step into the shoes of another person. It can help us understand their feelings and perspectives … and to use this understanding to guide our own actions.

Being able to empathize is a core characteristic that defines us as human. It allows us to live in a society where the betterment of the whole community reigns paramount.

However, researchers at The Ohio State University saw a unique reaction when participants who took acetaminophen learned about the misfortunes of others.

They observed that 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," said 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."

So not only does this drug reduce your sense of physical pain, but also your ability to share the pain of others.

This is a fascinating discovery because the two mechanisms at play here previously would have been totally uncorrelated.

You can find acetaminophen in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription drugs in the U.S. Click here for a fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health.

Why exactly would this happen? Well, the researchers aren’t exactly sure yet.

"We don’t know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning," writes Baldwin Way, the senior author of the study.

Way also notes that …

"Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings."

Found in over 600 medications, acetaminophen is the top-selling drug in America. You might even have some in your medicine cabinet right now, with familiar names like Nyquil, Robitussin, Sudafed, Midol, Vicks or Vicodin.

The majority of people seek out these products for pain relief — not to alter their emotions. So these new findings are certainly cause for concern.

And that’s on top of the harmful side effects that are consistent with acetaminophen. Specifically, the damage it can do to liver.

So if you are in need of a pain reliever, consider whether short-term relief is worth risking longer-term damage.

More natural and homeopathic pain remedies include:

  Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric)

  Ginger

  Cissus quadrangularis extract

  Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) (Seed) extract

  Boswellia serrata extract (AprèsFlex®)

Do you personally use Tylenol or any other acetaminophen-containing products?

If so, does this new research make you reconsider acetaminophen use at all?

Please let us know by leaving a comment in the comment section below.

Happy and Healthy Investing,

Brad Hoppmann,

Your thoughts on “Is this popular painkiller destroying your sense of empathy?”

  1. Difficulties with empathy – part of the triad of autism. And acetaminophen is known to have a narrow margin of safety between the therapeutic and toxic dose. What effect does acetaminophen have on the unborn child and on children? And why has autism spectrum disorder become so much more common since acetaminophen began to be used more instead of aspirin after warnings about an association between aspirin and Reyes syndrome in the 1980s?

  2. Actually, too much empathy creates anxiety. Hospitals give acetaminophen away freely, because it makes the patients less edgy.

    Seeing the guy in the next bed, getting poked with needles, raises the fear that it’s your turn to be poked, next. Your empathy for the other patient, is making you get less rest than you actually need.

    We could build private hospital rooms if we had the money to do that. But then people get bored because there’s no one with whom to interact.

    There are times when it is possible to have too much empathy.

    Next time you read about an ISIS suicide bomber, blowing everyone in a room to hell so that they leave this world and go to the next, ask yourself if it was a good thing that the suicide bomber cared so much about doing that.

    1. Um, excuse me…??

      “Ask myself if it was a good thing that a suicide bomber cared so much about” killing someone else??

      I don’t think you understand the meaning of empathy, brother. Empathy is what we feel for someone ELSE. If the suicide bomber had MORE empathy for others, he would never harm them.

      Methinks you are a little twisted in your thinking. Better lay off that Tylenol! lol.

  3. The one thing that your article didn’t say is if the lack of empathy once induced by Tylenol is a permanent condition or if it is gone when the drug effect is gone. This is an important fact that is missing. A person may need to use acetaminophen for a headache if they have allergies to other pain relievers or the herbals do not work. If they are aware of this possible lack of empathy while the drug is in effect they could control it for the hours that it lasts.

    1. Very good point Diane. These newsy reports usually leave us with more questions than answers.

  4. The other thing you failed to mention is that it can also cause liver failure if taken too often. I knew a young woman, age 23 who died from Tylenol, her liver failed due to it. It’s not uncommon for it to happen and has many times. The kidneys are also affected.

  5. How strong is the correlation?

    What is the sample size?

    Discussing/publishing “research” doesn’t mean —ANYTHING— without meaningful statistics.

  6. Good grief. A bit exaggerated, I’d say. How much was this reduction in empathy—and how much less/more can one empathize when they “hurt” physically? And the downside of acetaminophen correlates to how much is ingested and secondly, to alcohol intake. Best to tell the whole story.

  7. Years ago, when I heard about Tylenol, and acetaminophen being dangerous to the liver, I stopped using it.

  8. Where does one turn for pain relief?

    Ibuprofen isn’t something I should take because of high blood pressure. Acetaminophen and aspirin also carry certain risks.

    So far, any negatives that might be associated with medical marijuana seem far less risky than man made pain relievers.

  9. The bottom line is there are risks with all drugs. You can get intoxicated with too much water and it can kill you, according to a friend who is a nurse. Apple seeds contain a substance that when it comes in contact with digestive juices turns to cyanide. I work at a childrens medical center, met a woman who worked with a local pediatrician. She said he has been doing his own research and has found a higher incidense of autism among children who were given acetaminphen after vaccinations. All cases are not the same. We need to use moderation and think.

  10. Where can I get this CISSUS. does it come in product form or in health food stores. Please elaborate more. Thanx

Comments are closed.

Brad Hoppmann originally grew up in Florida, but has lived in Baltimore, Charlotte and New York as well throughout his career. Always an athlete, he played varsity football and water polo at the University of Florida and received All-SEC/SCC honors.