Just for fun, consider asking a random person in your life what the most common cause of liver injury is. It could be a co-worker, or a neighbour, or a friend. Their answers will probably range from excessive alcohol use, to over-consumption of opioid pain killers, or even to the illegal use of street drugs. Unless this person is very well informed, they would probably be surprised to hear that the leading cause of liver injury in North America is actually due to accidental over-dose of the exceedingly common, mild-mannered acetaminophen.
One reason this occurs so regularly is because considerable amounts of acetaminophen are now included in almost every over-the-counter medication that you can find at your local drug store. In addition to painkillers, acetaminophen can also be found in cough and cold syrups, as well as allergy medications. Without even realizing it, many people can exceed the safe daily dosage and end up with severe liver damage. And while the liver is very good at healing itself, sometimes the damage is just too extensive and nothing but a liver transplant can restore health.
I used to work in an office in a small town in Southern Ontario, for a factory that manufactured car parts for the automotive industry. Anyone who has worked in one of these third-tier automotive environments knows how stressful it can be. Deadlines are short and endless. There is so much competition among different suppliers that even a small delay, or a slight error in your work, can break your contract with a car company, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. My husband worked in this industry too, and he actively resisted promotion to a managerial position because of the number of people he knew who had became seriously ill due to the relentless stress.
I remember that one of my co-workers would come to my desk more than once every day to get a few tablets of Tylenol from me. In addition to being the receptionist and a secretary, I was also the keeper of company medications, and so I knew who was using them and who wasn’t. This middle-aged man was so stressed that he would take several Tylenol tablets every few hours, and downed them eagerly as if they were candy. I think now that he was a prime candidate for liver damage and I wonder now if he’s still alive today.
Many cases of severe liver damage from excessive acetaminophen use occur because they are taken along with alcohol, but even children have been known to suffer, and it only takes slightly higher than normal dosages of cold medications over a long period of time. Loving and concerned parents can unknowingly overdose their children, and in some cases, it can lead to longstanding liver damage.
Given the increased risk from “safe” and standard cough and cold medications, perhaps it’s time to give natural remedies another try, if you haven’t used them already. Popular Chinese herbs like honeysuckle and chrysanthemum flower have been used for centuries to relieve cold and flu symptoms, and because they are milder in action, they are safer for children and adults as well. Each of these herbs has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, so they can be used for both viral or bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections. Both of these herbs can be purchased from our store.
Combinations of Western herbs, such as lemon balm, chamomile, mint and elderberries also have antiseptic and analgesic properties that can calm headaches and body aches, while also bringing down a fever and speed the healing from a cold or flu virus. Because these herbs are also helpful for liver functioning, they can ease symptoms of poor digestion, such as bloating and constipation as well.
There are safer ways to treat a cold or a flu that can actually benefit liver functioning. An acetaminophen-based over-the-counter syrup need not be the first remedy you reach for the next time you feel sick.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.