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Health Corner
By Julene Tripp Weaver

Take a Tylenol? How safe is it really?

Every time I hear someone living with HIV/AIDS say they are taking Tylenol or ibuprofen I wonder if they are aware of the dangers they are subjecting themselves to, or if they have talked to their doctor about their use of this over-the-counter medication. There is much information to support that people living with HIV/AIDS refrain from the use of Tylenol and other acetaminophen products.

Taking seemingly harmless over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol can have a disastrous effect. Any of the commonly available pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, have been shown to suppress the immune system, and thereby assist in the development of a more serious infection.(1) In the simple case of a cold the use of any of these drugs only extends the cold further for they have been shown to increase nasal congestion and other cold symptoms.

I have been sensitized to the dangers of Tylenol because of a suicide attempt of someone close to me. This person survived an overdose of aspirin; after the hospitalization I learned that if Tylenol had been used, instead of aspirin, she would have succeeded in killing herself. I had read that people with HIV are advised not to use Tylenol, but it took this personal experience to really study what makes Tylenol so toxic that an overdose will cause death.

Tylenol, one of the brand names for Acetaminophen, is an analgesic (pain reliever) that is used to reduce fever, and ease minor aches and pains. Acetaminophen is a potent oxidant; in massive doses it can cause severe liver toxicity that can result in death; in low doses (as low as two grams per day) it can cause liver damage. Long term use of this drug can cause both liver and kidney damage.

The over-the-counter dosage of Tylenol Extra Strength is 500 mg to 650 mg. Ibuprofen sold over-the-counter is 200 mg, prescription doses can be as high as 800 mg. It takes 1000 mg to equal one gram, for someone in pain it might be easy to take up to two grams in a day. And if one is on additional drugs the toxic cocktail the liver has to process is greater to start with.

Oxidant substances steal electrons from other molecules, this is known as the oxidation process. We are surrounded by oxidants; a partial list of the oxidants, or substances that will cause oxidation, and assault our immune system, include: chemicals, pollution (in air and water), chlorine, pesticides, antibiotics in food, food allergies, stress (physical and emotional), radiation, ultraviolet radiation from the sun, tobacco smoke, drugs, electro magnetic frequencies (EMF's), bovine growth hormone, and free radicals which are among the most highly reactive oxidants.

Oxidation refers to a chemical reaction where electrons (electrically-charged particles) split off and are transferred from one molecule to another. This oxidation process is produced by the body to overcome invading pathogenic microbial organisms such as bacteria, viruses, other invading microbial organisms, as well as deactivating toxic substances. An example of this process is when hydrogen peroxide is placed on a wound and it fizzles, it is killing any bacteria in the wound through the process of oxidation, it is also damaging the cells it contacts. When one has an ongoing oxidation process going on in the body it becomes an assault on the immune system. Hence the reason many antioxidants are so popular.

An Antioxidant is a substance that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen or peroxides. Antioxidants support homeostasis, boost immune system function, are essential for cell and tissue renewal, protect against the adverse effects of many drugs and pollutants, and help restore tissues depleted by either injury, inflammation, or stressors.

As a drug that is an oxidant, Acetaminophen (Tylenol, and any of its other brand names), depletes a key antioxidant substance, glutathione, from cells in the liver, this makes the liver more vulnerable to toxic damage. The problem is people who have HIV are already losing the glutathione they have. A low level of glutathione makes cells vulnerable to apoptosis, a process by which the body eliminates cells marked as no longer useful. Research done by the Herzenbergs at Stanford University found the more glutathione a cell has the more resistant that cell will be to infection with HIV-1.(2)

Glutathione peroxidase (GSH) is an enzyme that acts as a free radical scavenger. Glutathione acts in the liver to clear out the prescription drug toxicities. As medicine is broken down in the liver they become toxic and can be very harmful to the body.(3)

Since glutathione levels decrease in people who are HIV positive, what can be done about it? And, if you use Tylenol, what can you do to keep your glutathione levels up? There are several alternatives. One common supplement that works to keep glutathione levels from depleting, and to raise its levels, is N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). This is a variant of an amino acid called cysteine. Cysteine is a sulfur-bearing amino acid that is a precursor of glutathione. NAC is frequently used to stop Tylenol overdoses. (It is used in other countries for bronchitis treatment.) NAC can help slow down HIV replication. This supplement can be purchased in most health food stores or through buyers clubs.

Another supplement that can be used is Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). This is an enzyme that helps drive the antioxidant reactions of glutathione. It has been widely used to combat oxidative stress in the aging process and is marketed to the elderly. Since one of the theories of HIV is that it is an accelerated aging process this supplement may have much to offer.

Milk Thistle, or its Latin name Silymarin, is a plant with a flavonoid complex that stimulates the production of glutathione. It has been shown to increase red blood cell glutathione as well as glutathione in the liver and GI tract.(4) See my article on the liver and the use of Milk Thistle, this plant is an important liver protectant.

In addition, there are several vitamin supplements such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, Selenium, and flavonoids such as quercetin that can be added to your regular diet. They each have the ability to lower oxidative stress.

So the next time you go to pop an over-the-counter pill in your mouth, think twice, and make sure you talk to your doctor about all the medications you are using.
(1) Murray, MT, Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs, Morrow, 1994, p. 144.
(2) Kidd, PM, Huber W, Living With the AIDS Virus: A Strategy For Long-Term Survival, HK Biomedical, Inc, 1990, p. 128.
(3) Romeyn, M, Nutrition and HIV: A New Model for Treatment, Jossey-Bass, 1995, pp. 64-65.
(4) Valenzuela A, Aspillaga M, et al: Selevctivity of silymarin on the increase of glutathione content in different tissue of the rat. Planta Medica 55: 420-422, 1989.

Disclaimer: Please be advised this is a sharing of information that is not meant to be used to replace medical treatment and your own intuitive sense of your body and what it needs. Please see your medical provider (Dr., Naturopath, Acupuncturist, etc.) to follow up on suggestions.