FDA inaction on acetaminophen could kill you

It's a common dose of a common med -- one that's in millions of homes across the country and around the world.

Odds are, it's even sitting in your medicine chest right now.

It's 500 mg of acetaminophen, or the exact dose found in Extra-Strength Tylenol and its generic equivalents -- but the fact that it's so common doesn't make it safe.

Even the FDA says this dose is so dangerous that it shouldn't exist -- just don't expect them to actually do much about it.

I'm sure you've heard by now about the so-called ban on doses higher than 325 mg. The agency says -- correctly -- that higher doses aren't much better at relieving pain and increase the risk of liver injury and even liver failure.

But the ban is for prescription drugs only and doesn't apply to Extra-Strength Tylenol or any other over-the-counter versions of acetaminophen, which together account for more than 90 percent of the drug's sales.


Allow me to pull back the curtain and show you the ugly truth about who really calls the shots at the FDA -- because it's not doctors or scientists with your best interests at heart.

It's the drug industry itself.

Back in 2009, the FDA hinted that it would like to reduce the dose of over-the-counter acetaminophen drugs, specifically to reduce the risk of liver damage. And at that moment, the makers of Tylenol made it quite clear who wears the pants.

The drug's maker began ordering the FDA around, spelling out the conditions the agency would have to meet to make the change.

Specifically, the company told the FDA it would have to amend its internal final analgesic monograph, provide a notice and comment period of at least a year and then another period to implement the change.

Instead, the company "suggested" merely updating the fine-print warning telling consumers to limit themselves to 3,000 mg per day instead of 4,000 mg per day.

It was an offer the agency couldn't refuse, so that's what we have: a change in the fine print instead of a change in the dose (and 3,000 mg per day is still far too much).

That means millions of people who continue to take these high-dose versions of the drug are still facing big risks -- risks that are neither small nor rare, since acetaminophen sends 80,000 Americans to the ER every year and is the nation's number one cause of acute liver failure.

And thanks to the FDA's inaction on this critical issue, you can bet the numbers will continue to rise.

But you don't need the FDA to protect your or your family. You've got me -- and I've got four common-sense tips for dealing with pain.

First, consider natural anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin and MSM for pain relief. And for chronic pain, I recommend acupuncture, cold laser and other nondrug options.

Second, if you do need a painkiller, limit yourself to the smallest possible dose for the shortest possible period.

Third, be aware of how easy it is to overdose on acetaminophen, because it's not just found in painkillers. It's in everything from cold remedies to sleep meds. It's so common that many of the people who overdose had no idea they were taking it at all.

And fourth, work with a holistic medical doctor who can identify and correct the cause of your pain so you won't need painkillers of any kind.