Our love for over-the-counter drug acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a classic example of a logical fallacy turned deadly, wherein our belief that “just because everyone takes it” suddenly makes a substance safe and effective. Scores of literature now suggest that Tylenol may have detrimental effects on human health, particularly on developing infants. It is for this reason that expecting mothers should be very careful when taking this drug, even avoid it altogether.
The research isn’t new, either. Dozens of studies that linked a potential cause-and-effect relationship between Tylenol use and neurotoxicity have been made but were ignored by the medical community because it went against the norm. After all, taken in “recommended” doses, the drug showed itself to be relatively effective and caused little to no side-effects in adults (so they claim).
But what about gestating babies? Evidence points out that acetaminophen has an observable and statistically measurable effect on brain development. Studies in animal models (both in mice and rats) demonstrate that when taken during pregnancy, acetaminophen causes long-term alterations in the brain which eventually manifest themselves in problems with social function.
This may be a reason why more studies have linked autism to acetaminophen use during pregnancy. Margaret McCarthy, the head of the pharmacology department at the University of Maryland, has said that there is a “probable mechanism” by which the drug damages the brain during development. She and her team also noted that the male brain is more sensitive to acetaminophen during gestation which may explain the gender bias in autism.
Further, studies published in JAMA Pediatrics have stated that pregnant women who used acetaminophen were more likely to have children with neurological damage. Each study included some attempt to control for indication, but a formal meta-analysis was not possible as all the studies had various outcome measures and study designs. That said, every study concluded that acetaminophen was neurotoxic to the developing brain.
Previous studies of acetaminophen safety in children did not include any evaluation of brain function. These studies likewise did not include any evaluation for any long-term effects of the drug. All the “safety” tests performed for acetaminophen were made so under the assumption that any side effects would be acute in nature (e.g. bleeding organs). These assumptions were made based on observations of acetaminophen use in adults and aspirin in children. These were never based on any experience with acetaminophen use in children. (Related: The suppressed truth about Tylenol: It’s toxic to children.)
Using fallacies to exonerate a dangerous drug
It is frankly alarming that many health organizations have not raised any sort of alarm about the issue. There is evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, that there is some sort of connection between acetaminophen use and brain development. This article is by no means conclusive — there are so many others that talk about this same topic. However, whereas we want to give you all the information on the possible side effects of the drug, mainstream media prefers silence. Several “experts” in the field poo-poo these articles using one of two arguments:
- Everyone is doing it, so it must be fine; or
- Not one single study is perfect, so no change in practice should be made.
Neither counter-argument is logically sound and brings a concern of conflict of interest. Why exactly are we not making any sort of effort to look deeper into the issue?
Facts, after all, leave no room for doubt. If acetaminophen is as safe as doctors say, why are there so many studies suggesting otherwise? And if these are all studies are “medically unsound,” why is there no effort to figure out the truth?