In Western culture, over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol and Ibuprofen are ubiquitous. If you have a headache, you reach for a pill. They’re sold in every store, are inexpensive, and are generally considered safe and non-habit forming. But is that the entire story?
Taking OTC pain relievers might do more than just suppress everyday aches and pains. A new review suggests that these medications could actually influence people’s psychology!
Check it out per Live Science:
“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.
“Researchers reasoned that if there is an overlap in physical and social pain, then drugs designed to reduce physical pain should reduce social pain,” Ratner told Live Science.
In the review, Ratner and his colleagues looked at 7 studies published between 2010 and 2016, as well as at their own as yet unpublished data. The researchers concluded that there is reason to believe that widely available OTC pain relievers affect people’s empathy, sensitivity to emotionally painful experiences and ability to process information.
“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. “If existing results are confirmed — and I really want to emphasize that more research is needed — we might need to update our view of these drugs.”
One study included in the review showed that people’s ability to empathize with others might decrease after taking acetaminophen. In that study, published in 2016, the participants were less affected when they read about other people suffering from physical or emotional pain compared to participants who had not taken the medicine.
In another study, acetaminophen seemed to increase the amount of errors participants made when playing a game.
One study found that women who took ibuprofen reported experiencing less-unpleasant feelings from emotionally painful experiences than people who took a placebo. Male participants in the experiment, however, reported the opposite experience.
So the next time you reach for that bottle of Advil, remember that the effects of that innocuous little medication might be tad bit more than the label advertises.
Do you take OTC pain relievers?