It’s one of the easiest over-the-counter medicines to buy, costing as little as 19p for a pack of sixteen tablets.
But a new study claims that self-administering paracetamol can potentially be as dangerous as cancer on the liver’s function.
Scientists have discovered how the common painkiller causes damage to the body’s vital organ on par with cirrhosis and hepatitis.
Excess dosages of the drug – sold as Tylenol in the US – is considered to be the leading cause of acute liver failure in the Western world.
And the breakthrough could lead to the development of safer alternatives, experts believe.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied the impact of paracetamol on liver cells in human and mouse tissue.
They found that paracetamol can damage the liver by harming vital structural connections between adjacent cells in the organ.
When these cell wall connections – known as tight junctions – are disrupted, the liver tissue structure is damaged, cells are unable to function properly and they may die.
This type of cell damage is known to occur in liver conditions including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and cancer, but until now it was not linked to paracetamol toxicity.
Risk: The damage is caused by harming vital connections between adjacent cells
Dr Leonard Nelson, who co-authored the study, said: ‘Paracetamol is the world’s preferred pain remedy – it is cheap and considered safe and effective at therapeutic dose.
‘However, drug-induced liver damage remains an important clinical problem and a challenge for developing safer drugs.
‘Our findings reinforce the need for vigilance in paracetamol use, and could help discover how harm caused by its adverse use might be prevented.’
Co-author Pierre Bagnaninchi added: ‘Although liver damage caused by paracetamol toxicity has been the subject of intense study for 40 years, recent developments in biosensor technology are enabling a fuller picture of the biological mechanisms involved.’
The study, involving researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Oslo and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, was published in Scientific Reports.
Written by James Draper for and published by The Daily Mail ~ February 1, 2017.
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