The Most Popular Painkiller in America Is Deadly

When you feel a cold coming on... or your back is sore from shoveling snow... what's the first thing you do?

You probably reach for the most common drug ingredient in America...

Acetaminophen is an ingredient in more than 600 different prescription and over-the-counter medicines, including pain relievers like Tylenol, and cold, flu, and allergy drugs like Nyquil and Theraflu.

About 50 million Americans use it at least once per week, according to health advocacy group Know Your Dose. But this pervasive drug has a dark side...

According to the National Institutes of Health, acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common poisonings worldwide.

In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked manufacturers to stop making drugs that have more than 325 mg of acetaminophen per dose due to how easy it was to accidently overdose (especially during cold and flu season). However, many drugmakers have ignored the non-binding request, and continue to sell over-the-counter pills containing up to 650 mg – double the requested dosage.

About 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in a day can lead to serious liver damage... and just one Extra Strength Tylenol caplet contains 500 mg. If you take two in the morning, two a few hours later, another two at lunch, then two in the late afternoon, you've already hit dangerous levels.

And many folks forgot how many they had taken. Or worse, take three or four pills at a time. With serious consequences...

According to the FDA, nearly 50% of liver failure cases in the U.S. are related to acetaminophen. In 2012, acetaminophen was linked to three rare and potentially fatal skin diseases. And acetaminophen is especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol. Due to these dangerous reactions, the FDA requires any prescription drugs containing acetaminophen to add a warning label.

Every single year, more than 30,000 people are hospitalized due to an acetaminophen overdose.

Don't be one of them. Read the ingredient labels of all your medicines and make sure that you know what you're taking. And if you're traveling overseas, make sure to watch for its international name – paracetamol. Right now, the FDA recommends no more than 4,000 mg per day of acetaminophen.

For years, I've told Retirement Millionaire readers to moderate their use of painkillers. If you absolutely feel you need pain relief, try Excedrin as needed (but not regularly). It contains a combination of low amounts of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine.

But before you reach for a pill, there are natural – and simple – ways to reduce pain...

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Get Rid of Pain Without Pills

For centuries, people have relieved pain, long before they could simply "pop a pill." Try these three ways of relieving pain next time you have some aches...

1. Meditation: The power of meditation comes from the "relaxation response" it elicits.

During meditation, our brain waves convert to a pattern that is as deep, and in some ways deeper than, sleep. And it is more restful and recharging than a nap. Meditation releases chemicals that are the direct opposite of the so-called "stress hormones." These chemicals and hormones trigger pathways of healing and regeneration.

A 2011 study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found just one hour of meditation can cut your pain in half. Some participants saw a 93% reduction in pain.

Meditating is simple and it only takes 10-12 minutes a day. You can sit in a chair or lie in bed, relaxing your body while you concentrate on taking deep breaths. That's it. You can let your mind wander as it chooses, as long as you keep breathing steadily and deeply. I make sure to meditate when I'm feeling stressed or tired or feeling aches and pains. We recently shared some "beginner's tips" to meditation.

2. Massage: Massage decreases inflammation and modulates the immune system. That means less aches and pain.

Swedish-style massage is my preferred choice as it moves toxins out of the muscles and body tissues while assisting the immune system in its functions. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed Swedish massage helped patients with osteoarthritis improve their range of motion and decrease pain.

I love getting a professional massage, and I also use a Body Back Buddy to help relieve aches in my back. (You can find them on Amazon for less than $40.)

You can even use a tennis ball. It's the quickest headache and back-pain reliever I know of. I travel with one and use the ball under my upper back and roll around until I find the pressure points. You can easily adjust the pressure and position of the ball.

3. Music: If such a thing as a "miracle cure" exists, music comes close. Music can boost immune function, reduce chronic pain, and reduce pain after surgery.

A study published in the journal Pediatric Surgery International shows that music helps reduce pain after surgery. A group of 56 children either listened to music or an audiobook they chose, or sat in silence for a few hours after surgery. The music and audiobook groups experienced significantly less pain after 48 hours than the silence group.

Children cannot tolerate medications as well as adults, so reducing the amount of "pain meds" is safer. Music therapy could also help lower the amount of drugs used in the future. Likewise, other patients who might be sensitive to pain medication could benefit from the same musical treatments.

What We're Reading...

  • An extensive article on how Tylenol-maker Johnson & Johnson has buried the dangers of acetaminophen, with a handy tool to measure how much you might be taking.