Study Suggests Tylenol Can Also Dull Emotional Pain
While it's given that rejection and humiliation cause emotional hurt, as many people can attest, they can cause physical pain symptoms - sore muscles or a literally aching heart - as well. Consider the fact that we describe the feeling of deep emotional hurt as being "heartbroken" and it becomes clear that the link between these two experiences has been felt for a long time. Now, the scientific basis for this phenomenon is just being uncovered. Scientists have known that similarities exist in the way the mind processes physical and emotional pain, but a new study shows they may be more closely related than had ever been expected.
Physical and Emotional Pain
They have found a gene that affects both a person’s physical pain threshold and their emotional sensitivity, and to their surprise Tylenol can boost both! While the idea may seem strange to most, lead researcher, C. Nathan Dewall from the University of Kentucky says he had suspicions they might for awhile.
"The idea that a drug designed to alleviate physical pain should reduce the pain of social rejection seemed simple and straightforward based on what we know about neural overlap between social and physical pain systems… To my surprise, I couldn't find anyone who had ever tested this idea."
The Tylenol Experiment
In the first experiment researchers divided 62 healthy volunteers between two groups. One received 1,000 mg. of acetaminophen and the other half received a placebo. These participants were then studied using the so called “Hurt Feelings Scale” – the way psychologists commonly measure social pain.
The group taking the placebo, as one might expect, showed no change during study – their feelings of pain remained the same throughout. However, the group taking the small dose of acetaminophen ( the equivalent of two Tylenol pills) experienced a reduction in their feelings of rejection and hurt associated with social pain. Encouraged and intrigued by these results, a second experiment was conducted.
The Follow-Up Study
In this experiment 25 healthy volunteers took and increased dosage of acetaminophen – 2,000 mg a day or the equivalent of 4 Tylenol pills for three weeks, while a control group took a placebo. After the three week period was up, subjects from both groups had their brain activity monitored by fMRI and were asked to play a computer game.
Before the game started they were told they would be playing a game with two other people from the study while in actuality they played against two computer players that effectively ignored the human participant after the beginning of the game creating feelings of rejection. The study once again showed acetaminophen to be effective. Those who took it had fMRIs that showed less activity in areas of the brain related to feelings of social pain.
Should You Use Tylenol to Relieve Sadness?
Says Dewall,"Social pain, such as chronic loneliness, damages health as much as smoking and obesity…We hope our findings can pave the way for interventions designed to reduce the pain of social rejection."
However, he was also quick to point out that while the results were encouraging, the study was preliminary and more research will need to be done before they would recommend the use of acetaminophen for emotional pain.
He also warns that long term usage or abuse of acetaminophen can lead to serious liver problems.