When the Headache Hits

Most people don't think twice about taking a Tylenol or Advil for that pesky headache. Getting that quick fix by taking a pill has become quite the norm in our society and is so convenient, but does it pose any dangers to your health? In the United States, the use of Tylenol is the most common cause of acute liver failure, encompassing 39% of all cases. It's important to use these medications as last resorts and to first try less harsh ways of managing your pain. If you often choose the quick fix, continue reading to find out some precautions for some common medications as well as some natural solutions for that annoying headache. 

Tylenol (Acetominophen)
Tylenol is metabolized and broken down by the liver. This is why Tylenol should not be used if you have any type of liver issue or disease as it will put extra strain on the function of the liver and may worsen the condition. This is also why Tylenol should not be taken while consuming alcohol because alcohol is also metabolized by the liver and the additive burden of both can lead to damage. Long term use of Tylenol can also cause liver damage and has been recently shown to significantly increase the risk for certain blood cancers.

Advil/Motrin (Ibuprofen)
Although Ibuprofen is also metabolized by the liver, it is not as hepatotoxic as Tylenol. What is most concerning about the use of Ibuprofen is it's effects on the stomach. If taken for long periods of time it can cause burning of the stomach lining leading to internal bleeding. Ibuprofen can also reduce the bodies ability to form blood clots and for this reason should be avoided in those with any type of wounds or significant bleeding.

Natural solutions for the common headache 
It's important to keep in mind that headaches are a symptom that can be caused by a very large number of conditions. For this reason, it can be very difficult for a health care provider to find the direct cause of the pain. Below are some tips that can be tried before resorting to the pill bottle:
  • Drink enough water! A lot of the time it's the water that people drink with the Tylenol that actually helps curb the pain (Check out Dr. Peris's post on water)
  • Get a massage, do yoga or meditate! These are all great ways to reduce stress and tension in muscles
  • Elimination diet: Sometimes headaches can be triggered by certain foods, check out my post on food allergies
  • Acupuncture/Acupressure: Research has shown that acupuncture has been effective in reducing the pain associated with headaches
  • Sleep Hygiene: Adequate sleep can reduce fatigue and decrease your chances of getting a headache (see Nadia's post on sleep hygiene)
  • Magnesium: Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines in some preliminary studies
  • Hydrotherapy: Soaking your feet in a tub of alternating hot and cold water:  The hot water helps increase blood flow to the feet and in combination with the cold water this creates a sort of pumping action that can increase circulation and decrease your headache

So, next time you get a headache try to incorporate some of these tips before resorting to over the counter medications--your liver will thank you. If you have been experiencing chronic or intense headaches make sure you visit your ND or other health care professional for a thorough investigation into the root cause of the issue. 



Steven Reinberg, Chronic Tylenol Use May Be Linked to Blood Cancer, Study Suggests, MedicineNet.com


Anonymous said...

Or go to your Chiropractor.
Fixed my problem. Permanently.

Christine Cho said...

Definitely a valid treatment option, but will depend on the type of headache you have. Lots of headaches are related to musculoskeletal issues, but others can be caused by other things too.

Thanks for reading!

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