I’ve been excited to write this post for a couple of weeks- ever since I heard that the public radio show, “This American Life” dedicated their hour to a report on the risks of Tylenol. The investigative report was initially carried out over several months by reporters at ProPublica- the risks of Tylenol, coupled with the bureaucracy of the FDA and the machine that regulates drugs, labeling, and oversight in this country. It is inefficient, shady, and when you are talking about people- and children- dying as a result. Well, I would say dangerously ineffective.
I encourage you to listen to the full report here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/505/use-only-as-directed
If you are not a regular, or even a semi-regular listener to TAL (This American Life) then you are in for a treat. It’s one of the best ways to pass a long car ride, while cooking dinner… maybe not before bed though 🙂 There is also a transcript, but the show is way better.
For the sake of context for the article, let me sum up:
– Tylenol contains acetaminophen, and is a pain-reliever and fever reducer, introduced in the ’50s. It was a big deal and was basically kind of a wonder-kid of OTC drugs.
-Acetaminophen is toxic to the liver, and there is a *very narrow* range under which it starts to cause
serious problems- much more so than other over the counter drugs. As little as 25% above the maximum daily dose can cause liver damage, and is even more serious in those with standing liver problems, and combined with alcohol.
– “Each year, on average, over 150 people died of accidental overdose, 78,000 people land in the emergency room, 33,000 people are hospitalized… this is all based on data from the federal government. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Tylenol… disputes that its product is the deadliest over-the-counter pain medication.” …from the transcript of This American Life
–Tylenol is touted as “The safest pain reliever you can buy” and “the pain reliever hospitals use most.” See above.
– One of the biggest issues with Tylenol has been labeling, and there is a long and winding story spanning decades when recommendations were made by federal committees to be more explicit and clear on the labels about the potential dangers of taking more that the recommended dose, etc… The company fought the recommendations and little action was taken.
-Children’s labeling has been a significant problem and one that the company actually attempted to be proactive about. What follows is one family’s heartbreaking story of how poor labeling and dosing recommendations were fatal in the case of their 11-month old daughter. Again, from the transcript:
For the longest time, Infants’ Tylenol was three times stronger, three times more concentrated, than Children’s Tylenol, the rationale being that it’s harder to make a very young child, and especially a baby, swallow medicine. So if you make the medicine stronger, the parents will have an easier time of it. [emphasis mine]. Makes sense on one level.
… Confusingly, he says, there aren’t any dosing instructions for children under two on either product. All it says on the box is, “Ask a doctor.” And for years, McNeil has been urging the FDA to change that.
Who is calling the doctor at 2am when their child is hot and feverish? Not me, and not most parents. I could go on and on about the report, but it’s best you listen for yourself.
I want to make it clear that everything that follows is my own opinion and experience. I am not diagnosing and it should not be used as medical advice. There- that’s my disclaimer! Oh, and also, TAL did not recommend *anything* in place of Tylenol or endorse any alternatives.
So what’s a parent to do?
Take the ‘fever’ out of Fevers
One of the best things you can do is to educate yourself about the role of fevers in the immune system- what the body is trying to do, when it is on track, and when it’s cause for concern. We need to relax our own ‘fever’ over fevers.
The fever is a vital and important part of the immune response. It is the precursor to antibody development, it raises the body temperature to kill off bacteria, the ‘breaking’ of the fever allows the body to sweat out toxins and cool naturally. It takes a significant amount of effort to mount a fever and so it is the mark of a strong vital force.
A fever is a child’s best defense and an initial response to forces that disrupt their balance- this can be encountering a bacteria or virus, but it can also come about as the result of being out in inclement weather (too chilled, too hot, too wet), or a big emotional response like grief or shame. Children are not rational thinkers like adults, they don’t work through issues with peers and authority in the same way an adult does. They feel everything and they process things on a physical level. It is not uncommon for a child to get sick or have a fever after a fight with a friend.
Put the thermometer down! Watch your child. A fever is concerning when the child is listless, not able to keep down any liquids, or under the age of 3 months.
The important thing is to keep your child hydrated and support his or her immune system in doing its job. Often as parents, we are most disturbed by illness than our children are. I talk to parents who report to me that their child has a fever ‘but he is playing fine’ – the issue is the parent, not the child!
Suppressing a fever can lead to secondary issues down the line. Once a fever has begun, the immune system is starting a process, to stop it midstream is like bumping into dead end in a maze; it’s just going to keep trying.
Homeopathic Remedies for Support
Homeopathic remedies are gentle support that don’t suppress, but help the body do what it is already trying to do- which is to rebalance the system. It is based on the natural law that ‘like cures like.’ So, a substance that would cause illness in a healthy person, can cure a sick person who naturally has those same symptoms when given in a highly diluted, potentized dose. Think of onion- it makes your eyes water and nose run. When prepared homeopathically, allium cepa (red onion) can help relieve watery, itchy eyes and a burning, runny nose.
Homeopathy does not suppress, remedies are made from single, natural ingredients, they have never been recalled, have no toxic side effects, and they have been highly effective at treating contagious and infectious illness for over 200 years.
Best Remedies to have On Hand for Fever:
As you can tell, mine is well used!Again! yup! Give aconitum napellus for a high, dry, fever. The child may have a flushed red face, or one cheek red and the other pale. The child may be restless, or have some anxiety- or not. Fevers that come about after playing outside in the cold, or out on a windy day are especially indicated for Aconite. Also for a fever/illness that comes about after a shock, or fright. The fever can alternate with chills. The parent will feel: a little concerned, want to check the temperature and stay close by.
A primo remedy for children’s fevers, the keynotes are pulsation, congestion, and inflammation. What that means is a sense of throbbing- you might see the blood pumping or the heartbeat right in the artery under the skin. A very flushed, red face and possibly dilated pupils. The child may be scared, have nightmares, or be a bit delirious in the fever. These fevers can come on fast and be accompanied by a very painful, red throat and/or headache. Restlessness, and might be worse around 3pm (kid comes home from school and spikes a fever!) or 3am. The head can feel hot and burning, while the rest of the body feels cool. Belladonna is a remedy that might require more frequent re-dosing as you have to meet the force of the symptoms- which is great- with equality in the remedy.
The parent will feel quite concerned about the high fever and want to check frequently.
Bryonia (wild hops)
The opposite of belladonna, Bryonia is for fevers and conditions that come on slowly. A low grade fever may develop over the course of several hours, or even a whole day. You may realize that by the time the fever develops that the child has been low energy and cranky for a few days. We call this the ‘grumpy bear’ remedy, because the metal state is touchy and grouchy. She often wants to just lie down and be alone, doesn’t really care about having company, and doesn’t want to move. She may be thirsty and drink great quantities of water- a whole glass in one go is not unusual. There is a dryness to a condition that needs this remedy- in the cough especially and it hurts to cough.
The parent will be less concerned about the fever, more about the cough and the child’s desire just to be still, and grumpy.
Chamomila is such a great children’s remedy. I have given this to my son when he was ill, with the one bright red cheek and the other pale and literally watched the color equalize on his face. The key characteristic with this remedy is anger, whining, and peevishness. This is the child that asks for something and then throws it away. They want to be carried constantly. The fever is more moderate and comes with this agitated mental state. It can often accompany teething, or an upset stomach.
This is the child who kicks his legs and stiffens up when you try to carry him, but freak out in anger when you put him down. This is an important remedy!! Chamomila will bring back some mental and emotional balance.
The parent will be struggling to stay patient and helpful, because the child’s behavior is much more of an issue than the physical symptoms.
Ferrum phosphoricum (phosphate of iron)
Ferrum phos. is considered the bridge between aconite, belladonna and some of the more low energy down-and-out flu remedies. The fever is not quite so high, there is not the same suddenness, bounding pulse, anxiety or fear. Instead, there is more of a mid-level fever and fatigue. They may be red-faced, but overall, the symptoms are kind of vague. Just malaise, congestion, low grade fever, throbbing headache. If there is no big symptom that stands out for you: anxiety, suddenness, anger, grumpiness and thirst… then this is the remedy to consider. You aren’t super worried about them, you just want to help them along.
The parent will have mild concerns and want to help ease things along, but no big alarm bells.
You can follow the recommendations on the tube if you buy it in the store. In general, I put a few pellets in a glass of water and then give two teaspoons within one hour. Then I wait and watch. I tend to be impatient and if I don’t see any shift within 2 hours, I give another dose (a teaspoon again, but stir the water in the glass 8-10x before). If I am unsure, I may give one more dose within 2 hours. If there is no change, then i start thinking about another remedy. If I do see a shift, then I only re-dose when I think the progress is slowing down, or symptoms are returning.
It’s not unusual to have some symptoms relieved, but others remain. It just means that the remedy was partially correct. You can continue by looking for a remedy to match the remaining symptoms- like a cough, or congestion if the fever was relieved. Or, you can use other naturopathic methods to support the body as it finishes its job. As always, rest and hydration are key.