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Just say “NO” to Tylenol (Acetaminophen linked to autism?)

Just say “NO” to Tylenol (Acetaminophen linked to autism?)

Update from Dr. Erika:  I want parents to understand that this article is not meant to place blame, or to make parents feel guilty in any way for giving their children Tylenol.  I also want parents to understand that development of autistic spectrum disorder is a multifactorial process.  There is no “one” trigger for autism.  Rather, it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the development of autism.  Tylenol is only one of these factors.  If your child has autism and this article is going to be a trigger for you please feel free to stop reading, close out your browser, and take a moment to hug your child.  

The problem with Tylenol

Many of the parents in my practice have now heard “Dr. Erika’s Tylenol Rant.”  Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) is probably my least favorite pharmaceutical.  That’s saying something, coming from a naturopathic physician who rarely prescribes any pharmaceutical at all.

Earlier I posted an article that was published in the Missoulian’s opinion section about vaccines and autism (“It’s time to move beyond the autism/vaccine debate“). I got a lot of hate mail for that one, simply because I stated that we need to do research about other things that may cause autism, not just vaccines. (By the way, if you want to hear an unbiased perspective about vaccines and vaccine education, I highly recommend signing up for my vaccine class.  It covers all the data about vaccines and autism, why they may be linked or may not be linked and what we should do about it.)

But here is Dr. Erika’s prediction: given what we know about the genetics involved in autism, over the next few years we should see more and more data linking acetaminophen use to ASD (autistic spectrum disorder).

Okay, so lets back-track.

It all starts with glutathione.

Glutathione is the body’s most important endogenous antioxidant.  Endogenous means that the body produces it (unlike antioxidants from chocolate, red wine or berries, for example).  I’m sure you’ve heard of antioxidants – but let’s go over a bit of the biochemistry so you understand why they are so important.

“Oxidation” is a normal process in the body that happens when we use oxygen to create energy for the cell.  The byproduct of oxidation is the creation of “free radicals” which are unstable molecules.  Free radicals are “bad” because they can damage cell DNA, potentially causing permanent mutations.  The body uses anti-oxidants to “scavenge” free radicals, neutralizing them so they can’t damage the DNA or any other part of the cell.

Glutathione is a sulfur-containing molecule that can absorb the impact of many of these free radicals.  Once it absorbs a free-radical it needs to be converted back to the active form.  (Bear with me, I’m getting to the point soon, I promise.)  When the body takes a large oxidative “hit” it causes the depletion of active glutathione.  The result is lots and lots and lots of oxidative damage.

Glutathione is especially important because it is active in the brain, unlike most other antioxidants.  Can you imagine what would happen if you deplete glutathione in the brain?  You end up with oxidative damage, inflammation and brain injury.

So guess what pharmaceutical is known for depleting glutathione? 

You guessed it, acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Tylenol is actually somewhat famous for depleting glutathione.  Tylenol overdoses (which occur at remarkably low doses compared to other pharmaceuticals, by the way) cause massive liver damage.  I mentioned this earlier in my “don’t suppress a fever (and why I don’t like Tylenol)” post.  It has to do with the way it is processed in the liver – the chemical it is converted to requires a HUGE amount of glutathione to make it less toxic.  Acetaminophen, in fact, is the number 1 cause of liver failure in the U.K., and the 2nd most common cause in the U.S.  Read the rest of my “don’t suppress a fever” post for more information.

Back to autism and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (I’ll abbreviate ASD from now on).  At this point there is quite a bit of data about glutathione and ASD – to the point where glutathione levels and enzymes involved in glutathione production could actually predict ASD.It makes a lot of sense, actually, given what we know about oxidative damage in the brain. Many children with ASD have poor transsulfuration and methylation – they can’t make glutathione and even worse, they can’t activate many neurotransmitters in the brain.

Tylenol + the wrong genes = a bad combination.

So this is why Tylenol could possibly trigger autism in kids who are genetically susceptible.  Please understand me on this one – not every child who gets Tylenol will get autism.  And not every child who has the gene and gets Tylenol will get autism!  I believe that developing ASD is a combination of genes and environmental insult – basically you must be genetically predisposed and then be exposed to a multitude of things that deplete glutathione. (This is probably why vinyl flooring has been linked to autism – detoxfying the phthalates depletes glutathione too.)

I want you guys to understand that this isn’t just Crazy Dr. Erika’s hypothesis (though I’ve been suspecting it for years).  Now there is new research that prenatal and perinatal exposure to acetaminophen is linked to autism.  (Thanks to one of my readers for finding that study!) There is also research that using Tylenol after the MMR vaccine may cause autism.

So here’s the bottom line: AVOID acetaminophen.  Do not give acetaminophen before or after your child’s vaccinations.  Not only can it trigger autism, it is also linked to a decreased immune response to the vaccine. If your child has had a bad vaccine reaction with or without Tylenol use please see my other blog post What To Do If Your Child Has A Vaccine Reaction. 

“So should I just give my baby ibuprofen, then?”

So I know the next question you are going to ask: “so should I just give my baby ibuprofen, then?” Well…maybe?

Some physicians have concerns that ibuprofen and other NSAIDS can cause kidney damage.  This is well documented, but whether that applies to the low doses given to children is yet to be seen.  Here is the bottom line: avoid pain-relievers whenever possible.  Never assume that your baby’s crankiness is due to pain – try other remedies to soothe him/her first, use the drugs as a last resort.  I always like to try Lemon balm glycerite with Annika first – it is a very mild calming herb that is incredibly safe.  When used during a cold/flu it has the added benefit of being antiviral.

What are your experiences with Tylenol?  Please comment below!

Just say NO to Tylenol. Acetaminophen is linked to autism?

photo credit: Eric C Bryan via photopin creative commons license

 

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Erika Krumbeck

Erika Krumbeck, ND is founder of NaturopathicPediatrics.com and the owner of Montana Whole Health, a naturopathic clinic in Missoula, Montana. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University and is a licensed physician in the state of Montana. Dr. Krumbeck is one of few physicians specializing in the treatment of chronic health conditions in children. 

Dr. Krumbeck likes to practice her own healthy lifestyle with her wonderful husband Jason, a physical therapist, and their children Annika and Leopold. 

She is a professional member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Comments:

  • Avatar
    Ashleigh
    September 4, 2020 at 4:45 am

    So what should we be using for pain management when our infants have to have surgery?

  • Avatar
    Matt
    July 2, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    The study that you’re using used “population weighted average autism prevalence rates and paracetamol usage rates were compared” this kind of correlation study has too many confounding variables and the same thing can be linked to TV watching, round up use and possible more. No link as yet and this article creates unnecessary FUD.

  • Avatar
    raevon1
    November 21, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    I thought you should know that Facebook flagged this post as ‘going against community standards’. I requested that they review it, as I do not believe that it does, and it contains important information for parents.

    • Avatar
      Julie Anderson
      January 12, 2021 at 7:34 pm

      Hi, my baby was given Tylenol at a hospital for a high fever a couple weeks ago. Is there anything I should do now?

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    May 21, 2019 at 4:12 pm
  • Avatar
    Kel Skistz
    March 9, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    Hi Erika,

    My son was in the NICU from 2 weeks -3 weeks of age with a high fever, high heart rate, mottled skin, extreme irritability, etc. He was given Tylenol and antibiotics intravenously for 6 days. I’ve always wondered if this has had long term effects. Any thoughts on intravenous use in a newborn and what effects it can have?

    (As an aside, he was tested for over 100 viruses, bacteria and diseases, and everything was negative. I and his current pediatrician believe it was an adverse reaction to the HepB he got at the doctor for his 2 week checkup-we did not get it at the hospital.)

  • Pingback: Could Panadol be a Cause for Autism? – Zen Childe Nutrition
    February 13, 2019 at 4:24 am
  • Avatar
    Jennifer Johnson
    November 19, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    Lemon balm and annika or arnica? What’s annika

  • Avatar
    Marissa
    July 27, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Can you supplement glutathione in kiddos? I don’t typically use Tylenol but my 2 yr old has surgery scheduled and I know they’re going to give Tylenol and want us to do an alternative pain control schedule. What do you recommend as the safest way to navigate this?

  • Avatar
    Jordyn Dumont
    May 8, 2018 at 4:56 am

    If my son has a fever or even in pain , for example, from teething..what should I be giving him then?

  • Avatar
    Faith
    March 15, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    My daughter got her 2 month vaccines yesterday and was given 1 dose of Tylenol per pediatricians instructions. Is 1 dose enough to cause damage? We obviously won’t be giving anymore after seeing this.

  • Avatar
    misscarissas
    December 5, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    what age is it safe to use the lemon balm herb? also i have been using Tylenol with my son (he is 8.5 months) before learning about this. any way to undo potential glutathione damage ??

  • Avatar
    David
    August 10, 2017 at 4:02 am

    If you must take tylenol, N-acetyl cysteine at the same time will prevent the depletion of glutathione.

  • Avatar
    Cheryl
    April 11, 2017 at 12:01 am

    Dr. Krumbeck, in your opinion is it possible for an unvaccinated child with the MTHFR gene mutation and Tylenol use to regress into autism?

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    March 23, 2017 at 7:39 pm

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