Acetaminophen (INN Paracetamol) is one of the most widely used over-the-counter antipyretic and analgesic drugs worldwide. [âŚ] Although discovered more than 100 years ago, and used extensively for ~ 50 years, its mode of action is still unclear
Source : The FASEB Journal Volume 22, Issue 2
One of the most widely prescribed drugs in history works by mechanisms which have not yet been agreed upon by the medical establishment. Itâs currently thought that paracetamol acts via more than one neurological pathway, one of which may be by inhibiting the COX-2 network (see link above). The COX-3 isoform of the COX family of enzymes is also implicated Ref. Wikipedia
The fact is, despite its ubiquity, we still donât really understand how paracetamol works. A leading theory is that, in part, it works like aspirin and ibuprofen, by blocking enzymes known as cyclooxygenases.
These enzymes are responsible for making hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins, which trigger pain and swelling in the body as well as stimulating production of the mucous that shields our stomachs against digestive acids.â
Source : New Scientist, link below
Uncertainties regarding its efficacy
Recent research suggests that paracetamol does have a marginal effect for pain relief - but only in around 25% of individuals - and that its beneficial action in others is due toeffects.
It's proven, however, to have some 'anti-pyretic' (fever reducing) properties - but is less efficient than either aspirin or ibuprofen.
The drug has significant side-effects, including stomach-lining damage. Overdoses - which can cause severe liver damage - run into 80,000 each year in the US alone.
A May 2014 cover story from New Scientist 'Cure-all no more' drew attention to a review of research that looked at people taking paracetamol to relieve chronic joint pain, examining seven studies that compared the drug with a placebo. Five of these found it to be marginally more effective, but two found no difference.
âWhy are we bothering to give a drug to people thatâs toxic, that has significant potential problems, when it doesnât work?â asks Andrew Moore, an anaesthetist and director of pain research at the University of Oxford. âItâs unethical.â
Anecdotal evidence from medical professionals suggests that some doctors are, in effect, using paracetamol as a 'prescribed placebo' (many countries have legislation to prohibit doctors from prescribing actual placebos.)
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