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The BIG Price of BIG Hope for LITTLE Pills in BIG Bottles

They lurk in the depths of millions of gym bags. They nest in the dark corners of thousands of desk drawers. They snuggle up to cell phones in hand bags across the land. Cabinets have been built especially for them. We are not talking about Hershey’s Kisses, paper clips, dental floss or smelly socks…we are talking about LITTLE pills in BIG bottles labeled for “regular” aches and pains!

There is no question about it. The little pills effectively deaden many symptoms experienced by millions each day. Unfortunately, the little pills over time may have BIG consequences to our health. As with all medical treatments, there is a time and place for their use. Before gulping down a few tablets, it is vital to first weigh the benefits and the risks. The purpose of this article is to expose the reader to the harmful effects of several of America’s favorite pain relievers. Knowledge allows for choices to be made based on information other than persuasive marketing.

Acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, has drawn much attention through the years. In 1998, Forbes Magazine reported estimated profits of Tylenol at $1.3 billion with an advertising budget of $250 million.1 These little red and white tablets carry risks that can make you blue.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that 8-10% of the overall incidence of end-stage renal (kidney) disease is attributable to acetaminophen use.2

Acetaminophen ingestion accounts for 12% of all patients hospitalized with drug overdoses and accounts for 40% of patients with acute liver failure.3

“Patients typically take too much acetaminophen for fever or pain over several days, not realizing the potential for liver damage.”4

Compared with non-users of acetaminophen, younger women who consumed greater than 500 mg per day for a headache had a 370% increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).5

Taken by an estimated 17 million people each day, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen (Aleve and Naprosyn) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) kill more than just pain. Like Tylenol, NSAIDs’ harmful effects magnify with long-term use.

Approximately 107,000 patients are hospitalized annually for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-related gastrointestinal (stomach and intestinal) complications.

At least 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur each year among arthritis patients alone.6

Pregnant women who take NSAIDs including naproxen in the first trimester run an increased risk of having a child with congenital birth defects, particularly heart anomalies.7

Play it safe and get informed. Below are a few important questions to ask yourself, your pharmacist or prescribing physician when considering the use of pain relievers:

  1. Can I change my lifestyle choices in order to feel better?
  2. Are there any natural and/or safer alternatives?
  3. Is there an underlying cause of the pain that should be addressed?
  4. What are the long-term risks of masking the symptoms?
  5. Does this drug interact with any of the other medications I am taking?
  6. What are the long-term effects of taking it?
  7. Is it important to read the label… including the fine print?

The truth may be a hard pill to swallow. There are times when a patient and his or her doctor may feel that the pain relief is well worth the potential side effects. In these instances, we can be happy that there are pharmaceutical options. Before making that decision, however, published studies indicate it would be wise to first investigate less invasive approaches for needed relief, such as Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation or exercise and dietary changes. For millions of Americans, a doctor of chiropractic can bring relief by addressing the underlying cause of the pain. This approach often eliminates or decreases the need for medications. Many other natural paths are available and may provide GREAT hope for lasting relief from the source of the pain, unlike the LITTLE pills within the BIG bottles!


2 Risk of kidney failure associated with the use of acetaminophen, aspirin, and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs; New England Journal of Medicine. December 22, 1994.

3 Acetaminophen toxicity in an urban county hospital; New England Journal of Medicine. October 16, 1997

4 The Danger Of Mixing Candy And Poison; San Francisco Chronicle; August 14, 2004.

5 Non-Narcotic Analgesic Dose and Risk of Incident Hypertension in US Women; Hypertension; September 2005;46:500.

6 Recent considerations in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug gastropathy. Am J Med 1998 Jul 27;105(1B):31S-38S

7 Ofori, et al (August 2006). "Risk of congenital anomalies in pregnant users of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: a nested case-control study". Birth Defects Research Part B: Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology.