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!

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photo credit: Eric C Bryan via photopin creative commons license

Erika Krumbeck, ND, FABNP
Erika Krumbeck

Dr. Erika Krumbeck is the proud founder and editor of, the leading internet source for trustworthy natural health information for children and naturopathic pediatric providers. She is also the owner of Montana Whole Health, a primary care naturopathic practice in Missoula, MT. She is one of few doctors with the FABNP designation, meaning she is a board-certified pediatric naturopathic physician. Dr. Krumbeck has specialized training in treating chronic conditions in children using safe, gentle and effective natural remedies. She helps bridge the gap between conventional medicine and complementary/alternative medicine by using both new research and traditional naturopathic therapies to guide treatment.


  • Avatar
    February 26, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Hello Dr. Erika,
    I’d love some of your advice. I have a 12 month old son. I have never given him tylenol but he has gotten advil numerous times for teething. I would only give it once a day before bed- no longer than three nights in a row and then not again for a month or so when a new tooth was coming in. How bad do you think that is? I’m concerned even though it was advil not tylenol. He has been exclusively breastfed since birth- never formula and drinks my milk all night long. He gets tons of breastmilk still. He also eats organic food about 85% maybe more. And always organic fruits and veggies. He doesn’t eat organic when he go out to eat. Do you think that matters? He has had only one vaccine. I am waiting till summer for more. We’ve had a very long hard winter and he has had NO sunlight for months ( luckily we did go on a vacation to the islands in dec.) but doesn’t a lack of vitamin D3 also deplete glutathione? SHould I start taking high amounts of vitamin D3 so he gets it through my BM? Thank you so much!

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    February 25, 2014 at 7:57 am
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    February 17, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you for the article – I have two kids who are both on the Dr Sears Alternative Vaccine Schedule, the older is now 6.5 (girl) and has tolerated her vaccines well, and no known reaction to tylenol. My son (now 4.5) has had night terrors since age ~2, and I have seen a correlation between Tynelol and the terrors. Took me a while since he’s also not feeling well when I give meds, usually only give with fever, but it’s just been so many times now. I started researching online (doing now) and am worried that his possible sensitivity to Tylenol may also indicate a sensitivity to vaccines, namely the MMR which he is due for at 5 (according to Alternative Schedule). So am searching for a correlation to tylenol sensitivity and vaccine reactions, if you have any info here I would greatly appreciate it! I pray for to ASD symptoms for my kids (and everyone’s kids!!). Otherwise, he’s a pretty healthy kid overall.

  • Avatar
    February 10, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Dr. Erika,

    Thank you so much for this informative post!

    5 days ago my 5 month old baby had surgery because she had a dermal sinus tract and suspected tethered spinal cord (a mid-line birth defect). Mid-line birth defects are common in people with the MTHFR gene mutation and people with the MTHFR gene mutation tend to have low levels of glutathione. I am not sure whether my baby has MTHFR or not, it is just a theory.

    After the surgery she was given acetaminophen every 6 hours for a day and a half. This was right after she got a toxic load from the two kinds of anesthesia and other pain medicine. I shared your article with my doctor and he said that giving her glutathione supplement couldn’t hurt. However, I am in Germany and haven’t been able to find liposomal glutathione and the doctor also didn’t think it is available here.

    Is there something else I could give her to help her detox? Is the damage already done since this was 5 days ago?

  • Avatar
    February 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Dr. Erica,

    Thanks for your wonderful article.
    Would you have any advice about raising glutathione level in a 9 months baby before and after the MMR shot (which contains acetaminophen) ?
    Would you recommend to postpone the shot of a few day if there would be a high ozone concentration in the air (also reducing glutathione level) ?


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    December 1, 2013 at 3:03 pm
  • Avatar
    November 28, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Dr. Erica,

    I recently heard about the possible link between Tylenol use in pregnancy and autism. I usually use ibuprofen, but switched in pregnancy. I used it for an occasional bad headache. However, I also got a high fever/strep throat at 14-15 weeks and was told to take the max dose of Tylenol for a week. I did so, believing it was benign and for the best for my developing baby. Now I’m terrified that I’ve irreparably harmed him. I’m absolutely devastated, as I have eaten well, avoided artificial colors, everything. I’m expecting him to arrive in four more weeks. What is my best course of action from here forward?

  • Avatar
    November 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Hi Dr. Erika,
    I was listening to a radio show talking about the ‘possible’ link of vaccines & tylenol to autism spectrum disorders. I have been giving my 6 mos the prescribed amount of tylenol for teething. What are your thoughts?

  • Avatar
    November 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Hello 🙂

    I have a beautiful 2 year old daughter with Down syndrome. She has just been diagnosed with SEVERE obstructive sleep apena and will be schedule soon for a tonsillectomy. GSH depletion is already a issue with DS because of the overexpression of the SOD-1 gene and I have been searching the internet for articles to give her doctor on why we do not want acetaminophen used as part of her pain management. Could you possibly point me in the direction of any studies done with acetaminophen reducing GSH levels?
    Any advice on how to best prep her body for surgery?

    Thank you for your great blog!

  • Avatar
    October 29, 2013 at 4:31 am

    I’m a mum to an as yet unvaccinated boy but I no longer think its realistic to avoid jabs as we live in an area that has a huge number of immigrants coming and going all the time. He’s 13 months now and I am looking into homeopathic versions while he gets up to date as I want to space and be cautious. I give him probiotics daily to try and boost his immunity and we bathe from time to time with Epsom salts. I’m glad I found this about avoiding Tylenol. Is there anything I can do to increase gluthiathone? I heard of giving vit c prior to vaxes and also have heard to avoid suppressing a fever? Would using homeopathic remedies to reduce fever be safer than allowing the fever to run?

  • Avatar
    October 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

    My now 11 year old has Down Syndrome and had open heart surgery at 3 months. I am almost certain that tylenol was part of his recovery back then. I also know he had a bad reaction to his MMR vax which we waited till he was about 2.5 years old to do. He spiked a high fever and broke out in a rash…I wouldn’t be surprised if I gave him tylenol after that. In the next 3-6 months he stopped using many of his signs and became very sensitive to loud noises, crowds etc. Once I learned of the dangers of tylenol, I stopped giving it to him but that wasn’t until he was about 5. My question is, is there anything I can do NOW to help him? We suspected he had ASD from about age 5-9 but he seems to be developing better social skills and is doing better with crowds and loud noises and new situations. We are in therapy for sensory processing which may be helping. I wonder if there is anything I can do now to help couteract the effects of the tylenol/mmr experience? He drinks organic whey proten shakes which help to boost his gluathione levels…but is there anything else?? I wish I’d know this information 10 years ago. Thanks

  • Avatar
    October 6, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I have a child who sustained a severe brain injury at 5 weeks of age due to a VKDB or Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn. He has had a number of surgeries during his life. He recently had his tonsils and adenoids removed due to sleep apnea. We gave him Tylenol and oxcodine around the clock for about 2 weeks and then slowly tapered off. He was in a lot of pain. He is now done but can you give me advice about what to do to detox the effects of using the pain meds? I feed him a mostly all organic whole food diet. He generally stays very healthy except of course the effects of the brain injury. He is 9 years old and weighs about 41 lbs. He is nonmobile etc.. Thank you.

  • Avatar
    July 28, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Here is another study supporting this hypothesis:
    A consistent finding in autism is a decrease of purkinjee cells in the cerebellum. This study shows that acetaminophen (and other Cox-2 inhibitors) causes atrophy of purkinjee cells in male rats during early life.

    • Avatar
      Emmad Kabil
      October 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      The dose given to rats in that study is about 3-4 times greater than the normal oral dose that your pediatrician would suggest you give your child. This is according to the study at any rate, where the rats were given 40mg/kg and the dose in children is 10-15mg/kg.

      Also, in response to the original article, you failed to mention that glutathione is constantly regenerated by glutathione reductase, using NADPH. As long as your kid has adequate vitamins and sugar, they will be able to generate the NADPH they would need to overcome a normal dose of tylenol while maintaining glutathione levels in the rest of the body. Also, since tylenol is metabolized in the liver, I’m not sure how glutathione levels in the brain would even matter, since the toxic metabolite NAPQI wouldn’t be formed there, only in the liver. So yes, there is an oxidative stress, but in the liver, not the brain. Is there evidence that Tylenol use affects brain glutathione levels?

      Finally, if there is a link between CNS glutathione levels and ASD, then there is little reason to believe that transient decreases in glutathione would result in a permanent disease. And for all anyone knows, it is the ASD that causes the reduced glutathione levels. Post hoc ergo proper hoc. So I think that there is a long way to go before you can advise people against giving Tylenol to children because it could cause autism.

  • Avatar
    July 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    We’ve had tremendous luck with soaking just a corner of a soft toy in chamomile tea, then freezing it and giving it to our babies to gnaw on while they’re teething. And instead of Tylenol, we always try peppermint oil on the bottom of the feet if we’re desperate to lower a very high fever. But thank you for the reminder – we are definitely guilty of defaulting to pain relievers when we know our kids are teething and unable to sleep! Just because these drugs are available “over the counter” doesn’t mean that they aren’t still drugs.

  • Avatar
    July 15, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I am allergic to ibuprofen, aspirin and most narcotics. I quit taking any narcotics because I couldn’t handle the gamble of whether or not the next one would work without terrible side effects. Tylenol is the only pain reliever my body can handle.
    What do you do if you have a child that is allergic to ibuprofen?

      • Avatar
        January 8, 2015 at 2:37 am

        I’m part of that segment that does not tolerate sulfur-containing anything. Same for nitrates. I inherited it from my mom, and I suspect at least 2 of my kids inherited it too. I’m thankful for the increase in organic food availability, because things like uncured bacon and sandwich meat is now available to me again.

      • Avatar
        February 19, 2015 at 9:18 pm

        I’m so glad I found your article! I have a seven month old son and he is on an alternative vaccine schedule and we are avoiding tylenol. My husband and I have nephews with ASD on both sides of the family. I just ordered the children’s lemon balm for his next vaccine visit but it states it’s for children over one year of age. Is it safe to use at his age?

    • Avatar
      Regina Babcock
      November 2, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      Hello Dr. Erika! Thank you for this article. I feel like it has saved my sanity! My son has always had some mild sensory/autistic tendencies (I think he has asperger’s but has never been officially diagnosed) and he has just recently regressed (I believe this is because the amount of Tylenol he was given to fight his fevers during croup). He had been making so many gains and doing great and then got sick with croup and I feel like we are back to square one with some of his tendencies (OCD, body rocking, sensory sensitivity, etc.). I want to just turn back time and chuck the Tylenol in the trash! 🙁 It is crazy how I can retrace his regression timeline to right after he had croup/fevers. I feel like a horrible mom. Is there anything I can do to “reverse” the depletion of glutathione he obviously had during his croup spell? Thank you!!

        • Avatar
          November 13, 2015 at 5:23 pm

          Hello! Is liposomal glutathione something that you would recommend children being on for a lifetime or just until you see symptoms of autism (ASD) subsiding more?

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