A Little Alcohol With Your Acetaminophen Could Damage Kidneys
November 4, 2013

A Little Alcohol With Your Acetaminophen Could Damage Kidneys

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Some people looking for mild pain relief after a strenuous workout or mild injury might take Tylenol and wash it down with a cold beer. However, that practice could be doing serious kidney damage, according to a new study presented on Monday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Boston.

Using acetaminophen with a small to moderate amount of alcohol increases the risk of kidney disease by over 120 percent, the preliminary study found.

"Most people take this medication without any input from pharmacists or physicians, and that's where the public-health concern is," lead researcher Harrison Ndetan, an associate professor for research and biostatistics at Parker University in Dallas, told HealthDay. "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 researchers pointed out that they only established a relationship between acetaminophen and alcohol – not a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Both have been independently linked to kidney disease.

"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 Dr. Martin Zand, medical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

For the study, the team looked at data from over 10,000 people who volunteered for the 2003-04 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included questions on alcohol consumption, use of acetaminophen and health problems.

The researchers said they found that neither conventional use of acetaminophen nor light to moderate alcohol use posed a significant threat to kidneys. However, about half of the people who combined the two reported health problems related to their kidneys. Of the 2.6 percent who said they used the combination, 1.2 percent reported kidney problems.

According to Ndetan, alcohol can block the gene that controls how the body processes acetaminophen. He added that this is the most likely possible explanation for the connection seen in his study.

While acetaminophen labels warn against taking alcohol with the medication, Ndetan said, "it is important for people to receive this message because people will take them despite those warnings."

If someone takes acetaminophen daily, they should avoid alcohol, Zand said. If someone drinks alcohol regularly, they should consider using another pain medication, he added.

"I'm not suggesting people should not use acetaminophen and should not appropriately and modestly consume alcohol," said Zand, who was not involved in the study. "But it's not a good idea to take acetaminophen for a number of days in a row and then drink alcohol."

He did note that taking acetaminophen for an occasional hangover might be okay.

"If you do need to take something for pain and if you are not a regular drinker, it would seem to be OK to take some acetaminophen for it," Zand said. "Assuming your kidneys are fine, you might want to choose another painkiller if you want to err on the side of caution, because you've just put your liver through a stress test and it needs all the breathing room it can get to recover."