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Many of the parents in my practice have now heard “Dr. Erika’s Tylenol Rant.”  Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) is probably my least favorite pharmaceutical.  That’s saying something, coming from a naturopathic physician who rarely prescribes any pharmaceutical at all.

Earlier I posted an article that was published in the Missoulian’s opinion section about vaccines and autism (“It’s time to move beyond the autism/vaccine debate“). I got a lot of hate mail for that one, simply because I stated that we need to do research about other things that may cause autism, not just vaccines. (By the way, if you want to hear an unbiased perspective about vaccines and vaccine education, I highly recommend signing up for my vaccine class.  It covers all the data about vaccines and autism, why they may be linked or may not be linked and what we should do about it.)

But here is Dr. Erika’s prediction: given what we know about the genetics involved in autism, over the next few years we should see more and more data linking acetaminophen use to ASD (autistic spectrum disorder).

Okay, so lets back-track.

It all starts with glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s most important endogenous antioxidant.  Endogenous means that the body produces it (unlike antioxidants from chocolate, red wine or berries, for example).  I’m sure you’ve heard of antioxidants – but let’s go over a bit of the biochemistry so you understand why they are so important.

“Oxidation” is a normal process in the body that happens when we use oxygen to create energy for the cell.  The byproduct of oxidation is the creation of “free radicals” which are unstable molecules.  Free radicals are “bad” because they can damage cell DNA, potentially causing permanent mutations.  The body uses anti-oxidants to “scavenge” free radicals, neutralizing them so they can’t damage the DNA or any other part of the cell.

Glutathione is a sulfur-containing molecule that can absorb the impact of many of these free radicals.  Once it absorbs a free-radical it needs to be converted back to the active form.  (Bear with me, I’m getting to the point soon, I promise.)  When the body takes a large oxidative “hit” it causes the depletion of active glutathione.  The result is lots and lots and lots of oxidative damage.

Glutathione is especially important because it is active in the brain, unlike most other antioxidants.  Can you imagine what would happen if you deplete glutathione in the brain?  You end up with oxidative damage, inflammation and brain injury.

So guess what pharmaceutical is known for depleting glutathione?  You guessed it, acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Tylenol is actually somewhat famous for depleting glutathione.  Tylenol overdoses (which occur at remarkably low doses compared to other pharmaceuticals, by the way) cause massive liver damage.  I mentioned this earlier in my “don’t suppress a fever (and why I don’t like Tylenol)” post.  It has to do with the way it is processed in the liver – the chemical it is converted to requires a HUGE amount of glutathione to make it less toxic.  Acetaminophen, in fact, is the number 1 cause of liver failure in the U.K., and the 2nd most common cause in the U.S.  Read the rest of my “don’t suppress a fever” post for more information.

Back to autism and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (I’ll abbreviate ASD from now on).  At this point there is quite a bit of data about glutathione and ASD – to the point where glutathione levels and enzymes involved in glutathione production could actually predict ASD.It makes a lot of sense, actually, given what we know about oxidative damage in the brain. Many children with ASD have poor transsulfuration and methylation – they can’t make glutathione and even worse, they can’t activate many neurotransmitters in the brain.

So this is why Tylenol could possibly trigger autism in kids who are genetically susceptible.  Please understand me on this one – not every child who gets Tylenol will get autism.  And not every child who has the gene and gets Tylenol will get autism!  I believe that developing ASD is a combination of genes and environmental insult – basically you must be genetically predisposed and then be exposed to a multitude of things that deplete glutathione. (This is probably why vinyl flooring has been linked to autism – detoxfying the phthalates depletes glutathione too.)

I want you guys to understand that this isn’t just Crazy Dr. Erika’s hypothesis (though I’ve been suspecting it for years).  Now there is new research that prenatal and perinatal exposure to acetaminophen is linked to autism.  (Thanks to one of my readers for finding that study!) There is also research that using Tylenol after the MMR vaccine may cause autism.

So here’s the bottom line: AVOID acetaminophen.  Do not give acetaminophen before or after your child’s vaccinations.  Not only can it trigger autism, it is also linked to a decreased immune response to the vaccine.

So I know the next question you are going to ask: “so should I just give my baby ibuprofen, then?” Well…maybe?

Some physicians have concerns that ibuprofen and other NSAIDS can cause kidney damage.  This is well documented, but whether that applies to the low doses given to children is yet to be seen.  Here is the bottom line: avoid pain-relievers whenever possible.  Never assume that your baby’s crankiness is due to pain – try other remedies to soothe him/her first, use the drugs as a last resort.  I always like to try 1/2-1 ml of lemon balm glycerite with Annika first – it is a very mild calming herb that is incredibly safe.  When used during a cold/flu it has the added benefit of being antiviral.  When you finally do have to resort to a painkiller (believe me, I’ve been there: at some point during a sleepless night you are desperate for the whining/fussing/crying to end), alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

What are your experiences with Tylenol?  What teething recipes has worked for your family in the past? Please comment below!

photo credit: Eric C Bryan via photopin creative commons license

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41 Responses

  • Rebecca says:

    I am allergic to ibuprofen, aspirin and most narcotics. I quit taking any narcotics because I couldn’t handle the gamble of whether or not the next one would work without terrible side effects. Tylenol is the only pain reliever my body can handle.
    What do you do if you have a child that is allergic to ibuprofen?

    • Rebecca,

      For you, obviously I would recommend you stick with Tylenol – it is the safest option you have.

      If it were a child allergic to NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen) I would probably still recommend the Tylenol – but used extremely sparingly. There are other things you can do to increase glutathione stores – mostly by eliminating other things that could deplete glutathione (PVC, phthalates, presumably pesticides and heavy metals from non-organic produce, etc). You could also focus on foods high in sulfur – whey from yogurt or milk, brassica vegetables, etc. That’s a bit tough though, because a certain percentage of the population has genetic defects that make them not tolerate sulfur-containing foods very well – I guess you would have to try.

      I think the whole point is to avoid pain killers whenever possible, and save them for the “last resort.”

      Hope this helps!

      -Dr. Erika

  • Lexie says:

    We’ve had tremendous luck with soaking just a corner of a soft toy in chamomile tea, then freezing it and giving it to our babies to gnaw on while they’re teething. And instead of Tylenol, we always try peppermint oil on the bottom of the feet if we’re desperate to lower a very high fever. But thank you for the reminder – we are definitely guilty of defaulting to pain relievers when we know our kids are teething and unable to sleep! Just because these drugs are available “over the counter” doesn’t mean that they aren’t still drugs.

  • autismepi says:

    Here is another study supporting this hypothesis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3534986/pdf/nihms428627.pdf
    A consistent finding in autism is a decrease of purkinjee cells in the cerebellum. This study shows that acetaminophen (and other Cox-2 inhibitors) causes atrophy of purkinjee cells in male rats during early life.

  • Jenny says:

    I have a child who sustained a severe brain injury at 5 weeks of age due to a VKDB or Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn. He has had a number of surgeries during his life. He recently had his tonsils and adenoids removed due to sleep apnea. We gave him Tylenol and oxcodine around the clock for about 2 weeks and then slowly tapered off. He was in a lot of pain. He is now done but can you give me advice about what to do to detox the effects of using the pain meds? I feed him a mostly all organic whole food diet. He generally stays very healthy except of course the effects of the brain injury. He is 9 years old and weighs about 41 lbs. He is nonmobile etc.. Thank you.

    • Wow that is really tough Jenny – I’m sorry to hear about his brain injury and multiple surgeries.

      You may want to ask your doctor to prescribe some liposomal glutathione to help with the detoxification of acetaminophen. Keep up the organic diet, it will help a lot. The good news is that he is well past the age where depleting glutathione does the worst damage (in the first few years of life).

      Keep me updated on his progress, please.

  • AJ says:

    My now 11 year old has Down Syndrome and had open heart surgery at 3 months. I am almost certain that tylenol was part of his recovery back then. I also know he had a bad reaction to his MMR vax which we waited till he was about 2.5 years old to do. He spiked a high fever and broke out in a rash…I wouldn’t be surprised if I gave him tylenol after that. In the next 3-6 months he stopped using many of his signs and became very sensitive to loud noises, crowds etc. Once I learned of the dangers of tylenol, I stopped giving it to him but that wasn’t until he was about 5. My question is, is there anything I can do NOW to help him? We suspected he had ASD from about age 5-9 but he seems to be developing better social skills and is doing better with crowds and loud noises and new situations. We are in therapy for sensory processing which may be helping. I wonder if there is anything I can do now to help couteract the effects of the tylenol/mmr experience? He drinks organic whey proten shakes which help to boost his gluathione levels…but is there anything else?? I wish I’d know this information 10 years ago. Thanks

    • AJ – I’m so sorry to hear about that.

      The whey protein is a great idea. You can ask your physician to prescribe liposomal glutathione – but of course at this point it is so far past the original glutathione depletion that we really would have no idea if it would help or not. High dose exogenous antioxidants (like turmeric, dark berries, etc) may be helpful as well – ask your physician (some are not the best depending on what other medications or supplements he is taking).

      Please keep me updated.

      -Dr. Erika

  • Jay says:

    I’m a mum to an as yet unvaccinated boy but I no longer think its realistic to avoid jabs as we live in an area that has a huge number of immigrants coming and going all the time. He’s 13 months now and I am looking into homeopathic versions while he gets up to date as I want to space and be cautious. I give him probiotics daily to try and boost his immunity and we bathe from time to time with Epsom salts. I’m glad I found this about avoiding Tylenol. Is there anything I can do to increase gluthiathone? I heard of giving vit c prior to vaxes and also have heard to avoid suppressing a fever? Would using homeopathic remedies to reduce fever be safer than allowing the fever to run?

    • Hi Jay,

      Here in my practice I use a product called VacciShield to increase glutathione and prepare the immune system for the immunization. The product has never been studied, so I can’t guarantee my patients that it will always keep a child from getting an adverse reaction, but the individual ingredients do have quite a bit of research. So far so good!

      Another note, though, homepathics are great for reducing the symptoms of either the vaccine or disease itself, but they are NOT a substitute for getting the vaccine. Homeopathics may stimulate the body’s overall health (and possibly immune response), but they will not create antibodies against the disease like a vaccine would. Just wanted to give you that warning.

      For more information about vaccines you can check out my webinar: Vaccines Demystified (it has a whole section on homeopathy as well).

  • Amy says:

    Hello :)

    I have a beautiful 2 year old daughter with Down syndrome. She has just been diagnosed with SEVERE obstructive sleep apena and will be schedule soon for a tonsillectomy. GSH depletion is already a issue with DS because of the overexpression of the SOD-1 gene and I have been searching the internet for articles to give her doctor on why we do not want acetaminophen used as part of her pain management. Could you possibly point me in the direction of any studies done with acetaminophen reducing GSH levels?
    Any advice on how to best prep her body for surgery?

    Thank you for your great blog!

  • Marcelina says:

    Hi Dr. Erika,
    I was listening to a radio show talking about the ‘possible’ link of vaccines & tylenol to autism spectrum disorders. I have been giving my 6 mos the prescribed amount of tylenol for teething. What are your thoughts?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Marcelina,

      I don’t like Tylenol very much at all – as you can probably tell from my article!

      I actually don’t like to give a lot of anything for teething, except when absolutely necessary. Be sure to wait until you know for sure that they are teething, then give the minimum possible dose, and alternate Tylenol and baby ibuprofen.

      Often times a little lemon balm glycerite can help calm their nerves enough to help them sleep – it doesn’t cut down the pain significantly, but is very relaxing. Lemon balm is usually my go-to before we step it up to Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

      I hope this helps!

      -Dr. Erika

  • Kal says:

    Hi Dr. Erica,

    I recently heard about the possible link between Tylenol use in pregnancy and autism. I usually use ibuprofen, but switched in pregnancy. I used it for an occasional bad headache. However, I also got a high fever/strep throat at 14-15 weeks and was told to take the max dose of Tylenol for a week. I did so, believing it was benign and for the best for my developing baby. Now I’m terrified that I’ve irreparably harmed him. I’m absolutely devastated, as I have eaten well, avoided artificial colors, everything. I’m expecting him to arrive in four more weeks. What is my best course of action from here forward?

    • Hi Kal,

      The data is pretty clear that NOT treating a fever in pregnancy is worse than treating it (even if it is with Tylenol). So you definitely did the right thing.

      You can continue to increase your glutathione by eating foods high in cysteine (the precursor to glutathione) – sulfur containing foods like eggs, whey protein, yogurt and poultry. Be sure to check with your doc first, though.

      I hope this helps, and GOOD LUCK on your birth.

      In Health,

      Dr. Erika

      • Heather says:

        Hi Dr. Erika,

        My beautiful three year old daughter was diagnosed with autism in November. When she was a baby I gave her Tylenol a lot. For teething, fevers (she was sick a lot) etc. I feel like her autism came from being genetically susceptible and environmental toxins. The last time I gave her Tylenol was well over a year ago, but is there anything that I can do to reverse some of the damage that it may have done?

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  • Christian says:

    Hi Dr. Erica,

    Thanks for your wonderful article.
    Would you have any advice about raising glutathione level in a 9 months baby before and after the MMR shot (which contains acetaminophen) ?
    Would you recommend to postpone the shot of a few day if there would be a high ozone concentration in the air (also reducing glutathione level) ?

    Thanks
    Christian

    • Hi Christian,

      I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.

      I’m not exactly sure what you are asking for here. 12 months is the recommended minimum age for the MMR vaccine, so hopefully your little one is not getting the MMR until then. Also, the MMR vaccine does not contain acetaminophen. Many parents erroneously give their children tylenol before or after vaccinating, which is what I recommend NOT doing.

      As to raising glutathione levels in a baby – that is tricky. Cysteine and glutamine containing foods will provide the precursors to glutathione – that is why breastfeeding is so highly recommended, as the protein in breastmilk has a high concentration of all the lovely amino acids we need to produce glutathione. I use a product in my practice called “VaccisShield” (no affiliation), that contains a little glutamine, probiotics, zinc, and some other nutrients to help prepare the immune system for a correct response to the vaccine. It seems to be working quite well.

      I hope this helps!

      In Health,

      Dr. Erika

  • Julie says:

    Dr. Erika,

    Thank you so much for this informative post!

    5 days ago my 5 month old baby had surgery because she had a dermal sinus tract and suspected tethered spinal cord (a mid-line birth defect). Mid-line birth defects are common in people with the MTHFR gene mutation and people with the MTHFR gene mutation tend to have low levels of glutathione. I am not sure whether my baby has MTHFR or not, it is just a theory.

    After the surgery she was given acetaminophen every 6 hours for a day and a half. This was right after she got a toxic load from the two kinds of anesthesia and other pain medicine. I shared your article with my doctor and he said that giving her glutathione supplement couldn’t hurt. However, I am in Germany and haven’t been able to find liposomal glutathione and the doctor also didn’t think it is available here.

    Is there something else I could give her to help her detox? Is the damage already done since this was 5 days ago?

    • Are you still nursing? That is by far the best thing you can do for her. Cysteine-containing foods help produce glutathione. Most important is to keep her away from other sources of exposure (especially new vinyl flooring, plastics containing phthalates, etc).

      If she ever has her blood drawn for any reason try to get the MTHFR genes tested.

      Your physician may also be able to prescribe liposomal glutathione from a compounding pharmacy, if there are any in Germany. You can also e-mail me directly (erika@mtwholehealth.com).

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you for the article – I have two kids who are both on the Dr Sears Alternative Vaccine Schedule, the older is now 6.5 (girl) and has tolerated her vaccines well, and no known reaction to tylenol. My son (now 4.5) has had night terrors since age ~2, and I have seen a correlation between Tynelol and the terrors. Took me a while since he’s also not feeling well when I give meds, usually only give with fever, but it’s just been so many times now. I started researching online (doing now) and am worried that his possible sensitivity to Tylenol may also indicate a sensitivity to vaccines, namely the MMR which he is due for at 5 (according to Alternative Schedule). So am searching for a correlation to tylenol sensitivity and vaccine reactions, if you have any info here I would greatly appreciate it! I pray for to ASD symptoms for my kids (and everyone’s kids!!). Otherwise, he’s a pretty healthy kid overall.

    • Lisa,

      So interesting that you’ve seen an association between night terrors and Tylenol…that’s a new one to me.

      I haven’t seen anything that would indicate being sensitive to Tylenol means he would be sensitive to MMR. I suppose it is a possibility, though. If you are concerned you can always choose to draw his blood and check titers for Measles, mumps and rubella rather than re-vaccinating. The 2nd MMR vaccine actually isn’t a “booster” – it is designed to cover the 1-5% of kids who don’t get immunity from the first shot. (It is usually the measles component that they don’t get immunity to. This is unfortunate, because measles is the one that is most concerning.)

      You can also use VacciShield before the vaccine if you are concerned – it is what I use in my practice. (I don’t get compensation for recommending them – I just really like that product!)

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  • Lily says:

    Hello Dr. Erika,
    I’d love some of your advice. I have a 12 month old son. I have never given him tylenol but he has gotten advil numerous times for teething. I would only give it once a day before bed- no longer than three nights in a row and then not again for a month or so when a new tooth was coming in. How bad do you think that is? I’m concerned even though it was advil not tylenol. He has been exclusively breastfed since birth- never formula and drinks my milk all night long. He gets tons of breastmilk still. He also eats organic food about 85% maybe more. And always organic fruits and veggies. He doesn’t eat organic when he go out to eat. Do you think that matters? He has had only one vaccine. I am waiting till summer for more. We’ve had a very long hard winter and he has had NO sunlight for months ( luckily we did go on a vacation to the islands in dec.) but doesn’t a lack of vitamin D3 also deplete glutathione? SHould I start taking high amounts of vitamin D3 so he gets it through my BM? Thank you so much!

  • Cherie says:

    Hi Dr. Erika,
    Wonderful post, so informative. I have a question I hope you might be able to answer. For those that are MTHFR mutation positive, do you recommend vaccination? It seems to me it would do more damage than good.
    Thanks so much,
    Cherie

  • David L. Voelker says:

    Dear Doctor,
    I believe that you are right on with the case of Autism. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is the cause and should be banned for human consumption. As you know, it is used in other products besides Tylenol. Tylenol PM, almost all cough medicines, prescription (pain killing) drugs, and other prescription drugs. One aspect you did not mention is the maternal grandmother of the autism or ASD child. My theory is that she was a Tylenol abuser. The theory is that it negatively affected the new born daughter’s eggs. When this daughter has a baby years later, she has one with one of her damaged eggs (all or most are damaged), thus an untraceable autism case. My sister-in-law died of tylenol (liver damage) and her daughter who is normal had a child diagnosed with autism. A study needs to be done on this theory.

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