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Thursday, April 16, 2015

OTC Pain Reliever Found to Blunt Emotions Like Joy

Heather Callaghan

It's been about 12 years since Equilibrium quietly arrived in theaters, only to become better known as the years went on. The dystopian flick about the forced removal of emotions - i.e. any shred of humanity - through mandated injections was quite the extreme allegory to average viewers. But perhaps you looked around and saw the "desensitizing metaphor" in all kinds of things in this twisted bumpy stop we call reality.

Fluoride, prescription drugs, antibiotics and other things that wipe out the gut (second brain), television programming, heavy metal and chemical exposure, schooling, etc... A good many things keep consciousness quelled by various forms of suppression. Homeopathic pioneers often talked about modern medicines having a suppressing effect on the body, which would drive disease further inward - were they on to something?

So, it's not too surprising to discover that over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol can steal smidgens of joy too. That is, one of the most common pain relievers has been found to blunt positive emotions, creating a numbing effect on emotional health. But the medication appears to stunt all emotional reactions.

Ohio State University researchers found a bizarre and previously unknown side effect when taking acetaminophen - the main ingredient in Tylenol. Although its damaging effects on the liver are now widely published, its impact on positive emotion was never even considered by researchers in the more than 70 years of its use. Geoffrey Durso, lead author of the study points out that previous research showed acetaminophen simultaneously blocked physical and psychological pain, but it wasn't known to reduce the ability to feel positive emotions until now.

College students either took an acute dose of 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen or a placebo and waited one hour. They all viewed 40 photographs that were meant to elicit emotional responses. They could be extremely unpleasant such as crying, starving children, neutral like a cow chilling out in a field or pleasant like children playing with cats. 

All participants were asked to rate the emotional content of the photos and later their reaction to it, not exactly realizing that they were the ones being rated based on negative or positive stimuli.

However, it was clear that the acetaminophen users were not so stimulated either way. Positive photos were not rated as such and the same was true for the negative. The same was also true of their emotional reactions. The placebo group experience highs and lows but the same could not be said for the acetaminophen group. Neutral photos were rated the same across the board. For full disclosure, however, the ratings were averaged out - this is not the best way to conclude a hypothesis. Seeing the individual ratings would provide more information.

Durso said [H.C. emphasis added]:

This means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought - Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever.
A co-author said the participants didn't realize they were even reacting differently and that, "Most people probably aren't aware of how their emotions may be impacted when they take acetaminophen."

This is significant because Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, found in more than 600 medicines, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. Each week about 23 percent of American adults (about 52 million people) use a medicine containing acetaminophen, they report.

Also, an OTC having such a desensitizing biochemical factor could affect relationships drastically. If things like this mask emotional response, then psychiatrists and doctors should be aware. Everyone should be aware. This study offers support to the theory that says that common factors may influence how sensitive we are to both the bad as well as the good things in life. "Emotion removal" might sound good during bereavement or break-ups (think: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but that also removes the ability to feel pleasure and joy.

"There is accumulating evidence that some people are more sensitive to big life events of all kinds, rather than just vulnerable to bad events," Durso said.
The researchers conclude:

These findings suggest that acetaminophen has a general blunting effect on individuals’ evaluative and emotional processing, irrespective of negative or positive valence.
A repeat study with a different group showed that yet again, emotional evaluations were blunted, but judging other components like color and judgements of magnitude were not affected. They wish to move on to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and aspirin to test their emotional effects. 

Drugs like alcohol, street and prescription, and cigarettes are considered "numb-ers" in traditional natural health and mind-body circles because of their emotional suppression. Now research published in the journal Psychological Science adds acetaminophen to the list.

Picture by Heather Callaghan

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook. 

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