OTC pain meds mess with your head: Study suggests that as they suppress physical pain, they also suppress empathy and emotional pain
06/30/2018 // Michelle Simmons // Views

There is growing evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines have adverse effects on the brain. OTC pain medicines, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, could affect the mind of its users, according to a review of studies published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. The study was carried out by a team of researchers from University of California, Santa Barbara who examined whether over-the-counter pain medications affected people's thoughts and emotions.

In the study review, the research team analyzed seven studies published between 2010 and 2016.

"Researchers started looking at these [OTC] pain medication effects on psychology because there have been debates in the literature if brain regions responsive to physical pain are also responsive to social pain," said lead author Kyle Ratner, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

A study in the review published in 2016 revealed that the ability of people to empathize with others might go down after acetaminophen is taken. The researchers of that study found that the participants were less affected when they read about other people suffering from physical or emotional pain in comparison to those who did not take the medicine.

Moreover, one of the studies in the review found that acetaminophen increased the number of errors participants made when they played a game.

In another study included in the paper, it was revealed that female participants who took ibuprofen felt less-unpleasant feelings from emotionally painful experiences compared to those who took a placebo. However, on the other hand, the male participants in the study reported the opposite.

Likewise, a further study also showed that individuals who took acetaminophen reported unpleasant photographs more favorably than those who took a placebo.

"On one level, the results are surprising, because so many people take these over-the-counter drugs without thinking that they will have an influence on psychology," Ratner said. (Related: Over-the-counter medications eat your brain, say scientists.)

The research team concluded that available over-the-counter pain relievers negatively affect its users' empathy, sensitivity to emotionally painful experiences, and their ability to process information. How pain reliever medicines influence the mental state of a person remains unclear. However, Ratner said that the these types of medications affect some neurotransmitters as well as their ability to lessen inflammation may also play a role.

Natural pain killers

If you do not want to use drugs to manage or ease your pain, here are some natural ways to ease pain without the side effects of painkiller drugs:

  • Capsaicin – Topical capsaicin is derived from hot chili peppers and may be effective for relieving pain in some people.
  • Ginger – The extract of ginger may help relieve joint and muscle pain as it contains phytochemicals that help prevent inflammation.
  • Feverfew – For centuries, feverfew has been used for treating headaches, stomachaches, and toothaches. Today, it is also being used for migraines and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Turmeric – Turmeric, a type of spice, is used to ease arthritis pain and heartburn as well as to reduce inflammation. Its activity may be because of a chemical called curcumin, which contains anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Devil's claw – This herb, which originates from South Africa, may be effective in treating arthritis and lower back pain, according to some studies.

If you'd like to read more news stories and studies on the side effects of painkiller drugs, you may go to DangerousMedicine.news.

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