Thinking of popping a painkiller before going to bed for a better sleep? What wrong could a little pill do? Turns out a lot. Not only is it severely toxic to your liver in the long run but new research says it also can reduce your ability to empathise.
But how does it reduce empathy? Paracetamol or acetaminophen works by acting on the areas of the brain that control pain. These areas are also believed to be related to emotional awareness and motivation.
“Overall, the present research shows that acetaminophen reduces empathy for the pleasurable experiences of other people,” said researchers from the Ohio University in their new study published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The researchers recruited 114 undergraduate students at Ohio State University to test their hypothesis in a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment.
The participants were given 1,000 mg (1g) acetaminophen or a placebo and the effects on positive empathy were measured while participants read scenarios about the uplifting experiences of other people.
Considering the way our populations pops a painkiller for any and every ailment, this research could have a significant impact. The study needs to be replicated here, said Professor Dr Noor Jahan, a member of the faculty of pharmacy at the Dow University of Health Sciences, on SAMAA TV’s show Naya Din on Tuesday.
“Taking one painkiller when you’re in pain per day is okay,” said Dr Jahan, “but taking three or more and that too regularly can be dangerous.”
She said acetaminophen can be severely toxic for the liver in large doses. The maximum dose set in the medical literature is three to four grammes, she added.
The drug was so notorious for its hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity) that it was given in animal models when you wanted to induce hepatotoxicity, Dr Jahan informed the viewers.
Apart from liver damage, it can also harm the kidneys as the drug is excreted through those organs. A little known fact about acetaminophen is that it can cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes in around 0.01% of the population, the pharmacist added.
However, acetaminophen is still one of the safer painkillers. Dr Jahan said it is less dangerous than aspirin, prolonged use of which can cause kidney damage and gastrointestinal bleeding.
As for painkillers people take before sleeping, “you can develop physiological dependence on where you think you can’t sleep without them,” she warned.