Unintentional acetaminophen overdoses

In the e-Alert “Safety Measured” (12/25/05), I told you how thousands of unintentional acetaminophen overdoses account for about 100 deaths each year – most of them as a result of liver failure.

Fortunately, in treating headaches, fever, muscle aches, menstrual cramps and toothaches, there are many alternatives to acetaminophen that are much safer for this critical organ.

For instance, the herb white willow is an anti-inflammatory pain reliever that has compounds similar to aspirin. In fact, white willow’s salicylic acid is the parent compound of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Salicylic acid, however, has the benefit of being less abrasive to the stomach and intestine. And a 2002 study published in the journal Rheumatology, showed an extract of willow tree bark to be as effective as a prescription drug in the treatment of lower back pain.

Other herbs that have been used to treat headache pain include meadowsweet, valerian, passionflower, skullcap, chamomile, and ginkgo. A standout among these is feverfew, which has been used with success to alleviate the effects of migraine headaches. As with white willow, feverfew has anti-inflammatory properties.

Another study, published in the journal Phytomedicine, showed that an extract of the herb devil’s claw successfully treated hip, knee, and lower back pain. And once again, it’s the herb’s ability to curb inflammation that makes it effective.

Finally, there are some common nutrients that are useful in preventing headaches: calcium, magnesium and niacin may help relax muscles that often contribute to headaches. And supplements of omega-3 essential fatty acids and coenzyme Q10 both deliver antioxidants that can ease the stress of headache and muscle pains.