Turmeric: A Natural Alternative To Acetaminophen?

With our favourite OTC pain killer getting a bad rap in the news for being the most common cause of liver damage this month, I thought it would be a good idea to comment on the natural alternative that I use at home with my family...

First, let me say that Acetaminophen is safe if used properly, at at the recommended doses. It is meant to be a temporary pain reliever and only used as needed. It is part of a class of drugs known as NSAIDs. It is a pain reliever because it is anti-inflammatory. If you are taking it on a regular (weekly or daily) basis, please speak to your medical or naturopathic doctor, as it was not meant for use that frequently.

The first part of the reason acetaminophen is the most frequent cause of liver damage is that it's in so many OTC formulations – it's the primary active ingredient in Tylenol but also in hundreds of other products, and unless you know to look for it and recognize the name (it also goes by the name “paracetamol”) amongst all the other drug names, you are at risk of giving yourself an overdose. This is no small matter: severe liver failure from accidental acetaminophen overdose can require a liver transplant. While chances of recovery are generally good with prompt treatment, who wants to go through that?

The second part of the reason is that people are consuming alcohol at the same time as acetaminophen. This is not just alcoholics. Remember your last hang over? Think about the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream and what you did for your headache. No-one intends to damage their liver that badly, but it happens.

Turmeric: A Safer Gentler Alternative?

Turmeric is a well known herbal anti-inflammatory. There are thousands of peer reviewed biomedical papers on it's active constituent (curcumin). In this particular study (PMID: 15489888) researchers compared the effectiveness of turmeric's component curcumin to a variety of other NSAIDs by measuring their ability to produce anti-inflammatory activity in cells. It concluded that curcumin was among the most potent anti-inflammatories researched. This is important because curcumin is so gentle, it's virtually side-effect free. It is food after all!

Incidentally, there is also much research around curcumin's liver protection and repair capabilities following acetaminophen damage. (PMID: 25757271). It's enough to make one wonder why we don't just reach for the curcumin for minor pain relief in the first place and skip the acetaminophen altogether, no?

Turmeric supplements with concentrated curcumin are readily available at your local natural health food store. I will give you a heads up however, in my experience supplement quality is important particularly when it comes to herbs. Be sure to speak with a member of your healthcare team for a specific product recommendation and dosage instructions. As a naturopathic doctor, I rely on pharmaceutical grade supplements for my patients when and where it counts. Tumeric (curcumin) is one of those items where this applies.


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