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article imageCanadian study finds Tylenol reduces fear and anxiety in brain

By Marcus Hondro     Apr 17, 2013 in Health
A study from the UBC in Vancouver has found there may be another use for the common headache and pain tablet Tylenol - reducing existential pain, or fear and loathing. The study found those who took it over a placebo coped better in the face of anxiety.
Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study has the unwieldy, and daunting title, The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats. That may be a mouthful but it's conclusions are simple enough to digest: feeling some existential pain? Tylenol may reduce or eliminate it.
Acetaminophen and anxiety reduction
Study lead author Daniel Randles and two colleagues, all from UBC, said their intention was to "explore whether the neural mechanism that responds to meaning threats can be inhibited by acetaminophen, in the same way that acetaminophen inhibits physical pain or the distress caused by social rejection." In other words they were hoping to discover if acetaminophen, the ingredient in Tylenol and other over-the-counter pain medication, reduces existential pain?
The authors gathered participants in two groups. The first group was asked to write about their own deaths or a more pleasant topic. Some were given acetaminophen and some a placebo. In the second study group, some were shown a surrealistic David Lynch film clip, others a more neutral film clip, and again some given acetaminophen, others not.
Participants were then asked to mete out fines to types of criminal behaviors, public rioting and prostitution are two examples. Here's what their conclusion says: "In both studies, participants in the meaning-threat condition who had taken a placebo showed typical compensatory affirmations by becoming more punitive toward lawbreakers, whereas those who had taken acetaminophen, and those in the control conditions, did not."
Randles: Tylenol may "numb" people to worry
In other words, those who took acetaminophen and wrote about their own deaths or watched a surrealistic film clip assigned fines to the behaviors of rioting and prostitution on the same level as those who had more benign assignments. Those writing about their own deaths or watching surrealistic film clips who did not take acetaminophen but a placebo assigned greater fines to rioters and prostitutes.
“Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death," Randles, a UBC PhD candidate, wrote in a press release. "Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as ‘pain’ by the brain – but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong.
"That a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches may also numb people to the worry of thoughts of their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film – is a surprising and very interesting finding,”
Randles and his associates, Profs. Steven J. Heine and Nathan Santos, caution that more study and clinical trials must be done before drawing definitive conclusions.
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