Tylenol could reduce anxiety associated with death

STORY BY Stephanie Wharton

Published: April 27, 2013

Scared of death? Tylenol might be the solution to your problem, according to findings published in Psychological Science.

In a double-blind study conducted at the University of British Columbia, groups of participants were assigned to take either a 1,000-mg pill of Tylenol-brand acetaminophen or a placebo. Those who took Tylenol reported feeling less anxious after discussing death, which suggested to researchers that acetaminophen likely numbs anxious feelings about death.

After having several participants watch an eerie animated short by David Lynch, the researchers found that the Tylenol group behaved similarly to the control group, which had not discussed death or watched the short film.

“Our research focuses on a particular region of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (DACC),” said Daniel Randles, lead author of the study. “This region is known to process physical pain and manage social pain as well.”

This is potentially great news for people that suffer from anxiety associated with death and dying, but a huge part of me is skeptical. Now, I’m no doctor … but I can imagine that someone with severe anxiety might have to take more than 1,000-mg of Tylenol per day. Given all the serious warnings about acetaminophen and liver damage, this doesn’t sound like a realistic long-term solution for someone with severe anxiety. It would be great to see neuroimaging samples of the participants that didn’t feel anxious after taking acetaminophen. In the meantime, I hope no one takes this news and decides to start self-medicating with Tylenol.

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