Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Paracetamol (Tylenol): The stealthy killer lurking in every home

This can hardly be emphasized enough

Paracetamol is one of the most common painkillers we use — every day thousands of packs are sold in supermarkets and chemists, and it’s our favourite remedy for dealing with a headache.

But should there be tighter controls over its sale, when one of the hidden side-effects can be devastating liver damage?

The family of Desiree Phillips certainly thinks so — the 20-year-old single mum died last August of acute liver failure caused by paracetamol poisoning.

In pain after an operation to remove non-cancerous lumps in her breasts nine days earlier, Desiree was recovering at home, taking ‘a few more’ tablets than the recommended maximum daily dose of eight 500mg tablets, when she was found unconscious and rushed back to hospital.

She underwent a liver transplant but it was not successful.

Paracetamol had built up in her body without anyone noticing — the drug produces a by-product known as NAPQI, which attacks the liver. As it gradually accumulates, it can result in a ‘staggered’ overdose.

Last November, a medical journal published research showing that just a few extra paracetamol daily can be fatal and that a staggered overdose is much more likely to be fatal than a deliberate one. Doctors say that when the danger levels of toxicity are reached, many patients show no symptoms for 24 hours, by which time it may be too late.

The Government is rightly concerned about the effect of binge drinking on our livers — hence David Cameron’s campaign to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol — but overdosing on paracetamol, not booze, is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the UK.

Yet still the National Health Service say there’s no cause for concern. Millions of us use the drug with no side-effects. But when you are in chronic pain — the elderly with aching joints or a workaholic suffering from repetitive headaches — more and more of us think: ‘To hell with the stated daily dose, I’ll just take a couple more.’

I’ve written before about the dangers of addiction to over-the-counter drugs such as Nurofen Plus, but paracetamol is available in so many combinations, as well as a hot drink, it’s easy to see how someone could unwittingly be building up toxic levels in their system.

There are no checks when you buy a packet of paracetamol, unlike codeine. That needs to end. All painkillers should be carefully controlled — because we have become a nation of massive pill-poppers. An ageing population is being handed huge amounts of prescription drugs to deal with arthritis and spinal degeneration. These drugs are often supplemented with over-the-counter preparations which no one is monitoring.

The number of people addicted to non-prescription painkillers is soaring and still the Government doesn’t intervene. Now, there’s a new danger — 39,000 packs of co-codamol, containing paracetamol and codeine, which are three times stronger than the dose stated on the packet, have gone on sale by mistake.

A spokesman for the UK medicines regulator said: ‘If you feel you have taken the wrong strength tablet, and in the unlikely event you feel unwell, speak to your GP.’ That sounds pretty complacent to me.

Finally, I tried an experiment. I stopped taking two paracetamol for a headache a year ago. One 500mg pill works perfectly. So why are manufacturers still telling us to take two, four times a day?


Popcorn has more antioxidant levels than fruits and veggies, study claims

A nasty one for the food freaks, who all seem to believe in the failed antioxidant gospel. Anything people enjoy is BAD, according to them

POPCORN, when it's not slathered in butter and coated in salt, is already known to be a healthy snack food and now a group of scientists say it may even top fruits and vegetables in antioxidant levels.

The researchers said they found great amounts of antioxidants known as polyphenols in popcorn and explained that the substances are more concentrated in the snack, which is made up of about four percent water, while the antioxidants are more diluted in fruits and vegetables, many of which are made of up to 90 percent water.

That's the same principle that gives dried fruits an antioxidant edge over their fresh counterparts.

One serving of popcorn has up to 300mg of polyphenols, which is much higher than previously believed and nearly double the 160mg for all fruits per serving, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego.

They also found that the crunchy hulls of the popcorn have the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

"Those hulls deserve more respect," said researcher Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "They are nutritional gold nuggets."

The scientists warned, though, preparation is key to culling popcorn's health benefits. "Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course," Vinson guided.

"Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many calories as air-popped popcorn. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself."


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