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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Acetaminophen and Alcohol a Bad Mix, Study Suggests

Nearly half who drank while taking the pain reliever reported kidney disease

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Combining acetaminophen pain relievers, which include Tylenol, and even light amounts of alcohol can more than double the risk of kidney disease, new research suggests.

Taking the recommended dose of acetaminophen, combined with a small to moderate amount of alcohol, produces a 123 percent increased risk of kidney disease, according to a new preliminary study.

"Most people take this medication without any input from pharmacists or physicians, and that's where the public-health concern is," said lead researcher Harrison Ndetan, an associate professor for research and biostatistics at Parker University in Dallas. "People buy acetaminophen over the counter, and they also are casual alcohol users, and they don't know that there is a harmful interaction."

The study, scheduled for presentation Monday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Boston, establishes only an association between an acetaminophen-and-alcohol combination and increased risk for kidney disease, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

Chronic acetaminophen use and chronic alcohol abuse both have been separately linked to kidney and liver disease, said Dr. Martin Zand, medical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

"What has not been well-studied until now is the link between some regular alcohol use and regular acetaminophen use and increasing your risk of kidney disease above the risk of either of those used separately," said Zand, who was not involved in the new research.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 people who participated in the 2003-04 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It included questions about alcohol consumption, use of acetaminophen and health problems.

The study found that neither normal use of acetaminophen nor light to moderate drinking posed a potential threat to kidneys.

Nearly half of the people who combined the two, however, reported health problems related to their kidneys, the researchers said. Specifically, of the 2.6 percent who took the combination, 1.2 percent reported kidney dysfunction.

Alcohol can interfere with the gene that regulates the way the body processes acetaminophen, Ndetan said, adding that this is the most likely potential explanation for the association found in the study.

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