The world's most widely used pain reliever relieves pain but kills empathy

The world's most widely used pain reliever relieves pain but kills empathy

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Although it is a fairly safe drug and is well tolerated by most people, it can cause some adverse effects, such as hypotension and increased levels of transaminases in the blood. However, the main problem is when it is taken continuously and in high doses as it can affect the liver.

However, its psychological effects have only just begun to be studied. In fact, just a year ago a study revealed that paracetamol reduces our ability to experience positive emotions and now research carried out at Ohio State University has revealed that paracetamol not only kills pain but also our empathy.

By feeling less pain, we underestimate the suffering of others

The study in question was carried out on 80 university students. Half of them received a 1,000 mg dose of paracetamol and the other half a placebo. They then read a series of stories about people who had been hurt and asked them to rate the pain these characters might experience. The results revealed that those who had taken paracetamol indicated lower rates of pain, showing less empathy.

The researchers were not satisfied with these results and replicated the experiment, introducing other variations. This time they recruited 114 students and exposed them to unpleasant loud sounds. They were asked to rate how unpleasant the experience had been and how unpleasant it might be to someone else. Interestingly, those who took the paracetamol indicated that the experience was not so unpleasant and that it would not be for other people either.

The researchers went one step further and decided to test the level of empathy, not only with physical pain but also with emotional suffering. In this way, the participants had the possibility of identifying with the suffering of a person who was going through a difficult situation.

On this occasion, the participants met and socialized with each other briefly. They then went into a room where they were alone but could see three of the people they had just met. In this "game", two of the people excluded a third from the activity. The researchers asked the participants to rate how much they were hurting the feelings of the excluded person.

The results showed that those who took acetaminophen thought that excluding the person did not hurt their feelings as much. Everything indicated that the participants were not very concerned about hurting the feelings of the rejected person.

Caution: Paracetamol anesthetizes the brain and emotions

Previous studies have shown that empathy activates in our brain the same areas that are activated in the brain of the person experiencing pain. However, as paracetamol acts directly on the nerves and receptors of the brain, cutting off the pain signal, it is understandable that its consumption may decrease our ability to put ourselves in the place of others.

However, empathy is not only essential to understand others but also helps us regulate our behavior based on the signals we perceive from our interlocutor. Therefore, if you have taken paracetamol and argue with a person, you are likely to be more rude since you are not able to measure the scope of your words and attitudes.

Even so, you should not panic since it is probably a transitory effect that disappears as our body becomes free of the drug. However, it would be convenient for you to assess whether you really need to take paracetamol since, according to the Spanish Society of Community Pharmacy, approximately 30% of its consumption is useless.

In addition, a meta-analysis recently came to light that included data from 666,000 patients in which it was revealed that the systematic use of this drug increases the chances of dying unexpectedly by 63%, increases the risk of suffering by 68%. heart attack or stroke and there is a 50% more chance of suffering from stomach ulcers or bleeding.

Therefore, the most reasonable thing, as always, is to bet on moderate consumption and only when necessary.

Mischkowski, D. et. Al. (2016) From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience; 11 (5).
Robert, M. (2016) Paracetamol: not as safe as we thought? A systematic literature review of observational studies. Ann Rheum Dis; 75: 552-559.

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