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Kurt Harris MD

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« Podcast Interview with Chris Kresser | Main | Psych Today Update »

Tylenol and The War on Drugs Updated

An expanded and updated re-write of Tylenol and the War on Drugs is now up on Psychology Today.

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Reader Comments (26)

Fantastic piece Dr Harris!
Indeed, how absurd is it when one arm of the Government (DEA) requires something that is considered dangerous by another arm (FDA)?

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterContemplationist

Will you be blogging "full time" over there at psychology today?
Asking because I was wondering if it was wise to suscribe to the RSS feed of the other site and delete this feed then?



KGH: No, only select articles will run on PT.

March 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterP O'Brien

Great job government, how about protecting consumers from abusing worthless GNC magic supplements, could you do any worse?

Still waiting on that podcast from Healthy Skeptic. Wasn't that due last Fri?


We recorded it on Friday, it may take a bit before Chris and Danny can post it.

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervoid*

Great article, Doc. It really bothers me that I can't pick up some pseudoephedrine for a cold without a big whack of ibuprofen or acetaminophen to go with it. I'm not sure about the US, but you can't get it at all here in Canada. You can get ephedra, but it's tricky to find. I used to be an immoderate drinker and took Tylenol like crazy for back pain before I knew better, so now I'm more than a bit paranoid about my liver.

Of course, eating paleoish, I rarely get sick or have allergy symptoms anymore, but still... I feel for the misinformed masses.

KGH: Yes, in my younger days when I had more nasal allergies I relied on sudafed - now it's behind the counter thanks to efforts to foil idiots who cook meth..

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

Along the same lines as "let's increase the jail time for crack to dissuade people from taking it"...
The result is not fixing the root of the problem, it is oppressing the folks stuck in the cycle of doing it anyway. In this case, it is quite literally killing them into submission with some twisted form of ineffective economics.
....or so I gather.

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAda Vaskys

Dr. H, are folks posting comments over on PT? Curious to read what the responses have been.

KGH: No comments allowed over there, too many blogs to monitor...

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia C Psy.D.

Excellent, though VERY scary, post. Thanks!

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Arkus

The funniest thing about this approach is that most people are totally unaware of the hepatoxic effect of acetaminophen. In fact, I'd wager that a significant majority of people are completely unaware of the existence of a substance called "acetaminophen", though they're very familiar with Tylenol. Making painkillers toxic with the addition of acetaminophen will almost certainly fail to act as a deterrent, simply because for deterrence to work, people have to be aware of the danger. How many party pill poppers are going to know?

So not only are we engineering situations in which you can accidentally OD on a hepatoxin, which would be somewhat dubious in the best of worlds, we're doing it in an environment where many people aren't even aware of the risk of OD. Well played!

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpfw

Dr. Harris, Just found you and have started PaNu. Thank you so much for all the info. I had two knee replacements this past year 3 months apart and the most difficult was getting off the Percocet. Now clean and sober, how can I save my liver? Don't know who to trust with all the so-called liver cleansers. Any suggestions?


KGH: The damage of acetaminophen is reversible. You are doing all you can do by not taking it.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I really like this post/article. I actually advised my mom to stop taking her Vicodan as soon as she could stand it when she had knee surgery late last year after reading your blog. She stopped taking it because it "upset her stomach" anyway. When she had a second surgery, her second doctor didn't prescribe Vicodan, but oxycodone. It definitely added to my confidence that he was more competent than the first guy.

It's my hope that your blog might be a gateway to introducing my family to the idea that refined sugars and flours, gluten grains, and excess fructose are not just "not healthy" but actually dangerous in the diet. It helps that you have such a concise, dignified writing style, and the educational background to give weight to your positions. Your blog posts come off as educated positions on a public health issue, rather than a belief. Thanks.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

Thanks, is there such a thing as a true liver cleanser? or can I do anything to speed up the healing?


March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Very timely article...I just had shoulder surgery on March 14th. The doctor prescribed Norco (hydrocodone/acetominophen). I took those for about 3 days, then tapered off to very minor use of Tylenol for a day, now nothing. And as long as there's a chance of me needing some Tylenol after physical therapy, I'm not touching any alcohol. Luckily, ice is all I've needed since about 4 days post-op.

Scott Kustes

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott Kustes

Are there any pain meds (narcotics or opiates) that are combined with aspirin or ibuprofen instead? In my experience when you have surgery, etc they usually prescribe the pain medication like vicodin along with lots of ibuprofen anyway, which also works for inflammation and pain relief. I wish they'd just ditch the acetaminophen altogether, IMO it's not even that effective of a pain reliever and certainly not worth the potential risks when there are safer alternatives.

KGH: Lortab is hydrocodone plus aspirin - a better option than Vicodin.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

Sorry off topic but what happened to you co-hosting The Paleo Solution?

KGH: No co-hosting was proposed, just a guest spot. I suppose Robb is pretty busy with his new book.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZach

I realize that Tylenol as pain relief is not all that effective, but it sure does seem to work when my kids are febrile, giving them (and me) much relief and the possibility of a night's sleep. Back in the day, my grandmother would use a cotton ball dampened with the Lebanese anise liquor "Arak" to relieve everything from a toothache (wedged between the cheek and gums), a bellyache (stuffed into the navel and taped in place), to fever (rubbed onto the skin), and aches from arthritic joints (massaged into affected parts).

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia C Psy.D.

Dr KGH, wonder if you follow

KGH: "Follow" would not be the word. Or are you pulling my leg?

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

For whoever asked about the healthy sceptic interview. I believe the program scheme is to put a new podcast every 14 days so the one with Dr. Harris will most probably be uploaded around April 1st since the route it 15/1/15/...

"After a long hiatus, I've decided to start it up again and continue on a regular (bi-weekly, for now) basis with my new co-host, Danny Roddy."

KGH: I think it will be up next tuesday.

March 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone else

Dr Harris - this was excellent - thank you. I will never again take acetaminophen or vicodin.

Perhaps a future post could expand on this theme and address other common OTC & Rx meds that are potentially problematic for things like gut & liver health.

Like many of your readers, I have a lot of autoimmune stuff [AS, UC, Psoriasis, Uveitis, ITP, CIDP, etc] and have only in the past year become aware of the leaky gut / molecular mimicry theory of autoimmunity.

I follow your PaNu diet very strictly and it has made a huge difference in my life, but I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to allow my gut to heal. Over the past few months I've worked with my docs to reduce or eliminate several meds [NSAIDS, prednisone, methotrexate], but I'm still on several others, including: Remicade, sulfasalazine, plaquenil, niacin. It makes me wonder if I should get more aggressive with cutting out any Rx that is a known gut irritant. Short term pain & discomfort for the potential of improved gut health long-term.

I'm not looking for any free one-on-one internet medical advice, I just think it might help your general audience make decisions [with their own doctors] if they were more aware of the potential trade-offs of certain popular treatments, and that there are potentially less harmful substitutes, like Lortab.

And as always Dr Harris, thanks for sharing your "personal journal of things I think about".

KGH: Thanks for your support. If you want to pay for any one-on-one tutoring, send me an email through the about me page.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Costello

Just tell the ER staff you're allergic to tylenol/aceto...

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjoe

I am new to this type of lifestyle...after reading Gary Taubes Good Calories bad Calories my life is changed forever. I am an RN and what I learned in school nutritionally compared to the truth, all that research saying one thing and they still teach the opposite?? WOW.
Anyways, after finding your site I have been getting so much MUCH needed info! Thank you for all you do! I am still learning so much and know I will continually learn much by your insights and blogs!
Erika Yaman

KGH: Glad to be of help. Welcome!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErika

Thanks for this post. I just had surgery to set a broken bone in my hand. They gave me Percocet. I've been avoiding taking it because I didn't want to take an opiate. After reading this, I'm glad I followed my instincts.

KGH: The post is not a warning to never take acetaminophen or opiates. A single glass of wine is fine. Two bottles with your meal might be a problem. The point is more about the priorities of the nanny state in their zeal to "protect" you and the unintended consequences of that.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey

Dr. Harris I really have appreciated you blog. There is so much horrific dietary advise both conventional and alternative health, and even the "good" advise can really confuse or make it difficult to follow because they throw around exacting ratios that you should follow.

I haven't really seen you blog about kids health (infant, toddler) but I can tell by following your advise for the last year with my 3 year old son and 2 year old twin daughters that these kids have perfect health and flu season is just another season. It's really pathetic that most of the "healthy" baby and toddler foods from companies such as Gerber ether contain soy, glutton, or even corn syrup, and the only canned foods that my kids would eat are the fruit ones. It's much cheaper and healthy to make you own. They love mash potatoes with tones of butter on them and sprinkled with hard cheese. What I've found with my kids is that if you feed them plenty of healthy animal fat and to lesser extent coconut fat (oil, milk) and some starches and vegetables with added or fried animal fat/ coconut fat that they really don't have to snack all day long, and you won't have to use that infant Tylenol on them because their little bodies have the right fuel to deal with sickness and infections. Thanks again for providing some clarity in an impossibly confusing health universe.


You're welcome.

Fortunes are made pretending kids have "special" dietary needs. As if they are not human.

PaNu for kids is brain-dead simple. Mother's milk for as long as possible (like 2 years) - Wean to the same real food you eat when ready. If you are diabetic and eating VLC of course, you just feed them like they are healthy - because they will be - potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, root veggies, minimal citrus etc. for carbs, plus the same real-food animal based stuff and atkins vegetables you eat.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarney

I just had knee surgery and was given this for pain. I am not sure if there is a relationship to this but I have been feeling very agitated and angry and never felt that when I took pain meds in the past. I have not taken any since a surgey eight years ago.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterandy

@Alan - I noticed Dr Harris posting some comments at CarbSane recently too (along with Stephan Guyenet) and wondered the same thing.

It seems like CarbSane has some interesting ideas but her "if Taube$ would agree then I will do everything I can to prove he is wrong" attitude is getting in the way of being collaborative with others in the blogosphere.

I would be curious what Dr H's take is on her ideas that actually might be worthy of consideration and the ideas that are a waste of time (NEFA obsession?).

KGH: You can read my comments on her blog and Peter's and get a good idea of what I think...

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAB

The law of unintended consequences is hard to avoid. However, I wonder how many lives have been saved by paternalistic regulations such as these. Isn't this what an empiricist would want to know?

KGH: Chemotherapy agents are not on the schedule. Cannabis is. Any more questions?

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUpstater

Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately my wife was not able to breast feed the kids and I ended up being the stay at home dad when the twins were 6 months old. At 10 months I decided to completely eliminate formula because even the milk based formula contained some soy in it. I wasn't sure exactly what I was doing but figured that breast milk had plenty of saturated fat and cholesterol in it so why not feed them foods that have a lot of fat and cholesterol along with starches, some fruit, and vegetables that don't contain high levels of omega 6 and of course eliminating glutton. I would also frequently make coconut milk shakes with bananas, added berries, and even some raw eggs thrown in the mix ( don’t advise doing that but my kids never seem to have a problem with it) I would dare say that even though my kids haven’t been breast fed that they are probably healthy than the mothers who breast but then feed their kids healthy frosted wheat WIC approved cereal for breakfast and then whole grains for their 10am snack , peanut butter and jelly for lunch washed down with some fruit juice and maby just some fruit for their mid afternoon snack followed by their pasta dinner with low fat steam broccoli washed down with some %2 or skim milk because the pediatrician says after 2 years old for some strange and unexplainable reason that you should give up whole milk ( not sure what happens between 1-2 that would necessitate giving up whole milk for low fat).

What first really turn me onto paleo and finding you site on the internet was asking myself the question if breast milk has so much saturated fat and cholesterol in it and a little infant can somehow tolerate all that saturated fat and cholesterol how come saturated fat and cholesterol can kill a grown man considering that you can kill an infant by feeding them strait water or formula that is too diluted with water. I have been doing paleo since I started feeding my kids strict paleo ( your version of paleo) and although I always ate relatively healthy in comparison to the average I have had great improvements in energy levels, my gums stopped bleeding, and for the first time in my life I be can out in the sun for a half an hour without my damn nose burning up (as a kid I was called Rudolf). You material on you site is invaluable.

When I can afford it I will be making a donation, and I refer plenty of people to it who think I’m just nuts for eating so much fat and avoiding grains.

March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarney
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