Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have discovered a connection between high doses of paracetamol and liver damage.
In Western countries, paracetamol is the largest contributing factor to acute liver failure. The damage that is caused is extremely difficult to treat.
When used in designated quantities, paracetamol is mostly harmless and effective. However, between 2000 to 2008 there were 90-155 deaths from paracetamol poisoning through overdosing each year.
Dr. Leonard Nelson and co-author Piere Bognaninchi, as well as researchers from Oslo and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, have studied the effects that paracetamol has on human liver cells and mouse tissue.
In a University press release, Bognaninchi, from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, stated: “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 involve.”
The press release detailed that results have shown that paracetamol can be damaging to the liver by interfering with “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.”
Dr. Nelson, from the Hepatology Laboratory and Institute for Bioengineering, said in the press release that: “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,” Dr. Nelson concluded.
In the United Kingdom, prescription-only and over-the-counter paracetamol tablets are limited to 500mg.
People are warned not to take more than two 500mg pills in four hours and no more than eight in 24 hours.
Image: David Pacey