Tylenol is an over-the-counter pain reliever, found in nearly every American’s medicine cabinet. It is commonly used to reduce pain from headaches and minor body aches. However, a recent study showed the active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, may be effective at creating emotional sensitivity, as well.
Researchers from Ohio State University conducted a controlled experiment with 85 random participants, measuring the effects acetaminophen had on each individual’s emotional response to certain images. Participants were separated into two groups. Participants in the first group were given the equivalent of two extra-strength Tylenol, while the other group was unknowingly given a placebo treatment.
After waiting an hour, researchers showed each participant a specific series of images. Some of these images were designed to evoke positive emotions, such as pictures of puppies and kittens, while other images were meant to create negative emotions, like photos of horrible car accidents and starving children. Another set of images included objects such as filing cabinets and rolling pins, used to induce a neutral response from participants.
Each person was then asked to rate their emotional response, to each image they were shown, using a scale of 0- 10, with 10 communicating a feeling of extreme emotion. According to this study, participants who were given acetaminophen experienced a 20 percent reduction in their emotional sensitivity, both positive and negative, when compared to individuals in the placebo group, suggesting Tylenol can, in fact, blunt emotional pain along with physical pain.
Since Tylenol may reduce emotional sensitivity, it may not be a good option for some users. While dulling emotional sensitivity can be helpful if a person is feeling distressed, this affect will not always be a good thing. Participants also reported blunted affect in response to positive images, meaning the medication also worked to decrease feelings of happiness and joy.
Baldwin Way, lead investigator of the study, explains it is still unknown exactly how Tylenol effectively dulls emotions by stating “I’d say there’s a common mechanism, a common lever, if you will, where one can affect both positive and negative systems in the brain — the bottom line is we don’t know.” While scientists are not sure why Tylenol decreases emotional sensitivity, they all seem to be in agreement about one thing: no one should use the common pain reliever to treat symptoms of anxiety or mental distress.
Geoffrey Durso, a doctoral student at Ohio State University and the study’s lead author, emphasizes, “We don’t want to make any recommendations concerning acetaminophen use.” Even though Tylenol is an extremely common medication, it still carries with it a long list of potentially harmful side effects such as back pain, unusual bleeding or bruising, and ulcers.
These findings are, however, causing a great deal of interest in scientific communities. There are plans to further investigate exactly what is causing this phenomenon. Researchers have already discussed conducting a similar study like the one on Tylenol, that involves common pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin.
Therefore, if research concerning the effects of Tylenol on emotional sensitivity may continue to provide relief from emotional pain in clinical trials, the results may lead to a small revolution in how clinicians understand and treat disorders such as mild depression and anxiety. Until then, researchers advise to follow recommendations from your doctor in regards to mental health, and only use Tylenol as directed.
Written by April DeLong