Over the last few years, there has been a growing concern around acetaminophen. Some scientists are convinced that acetaminophen (which is the active ingredient in Tylenol) can dull the brain’s response to certain stimuli and even make you less empathetic towards people in pain.

On top of all of this, an extensive study now suggests that newborns whose mothers continuously use acetaminophen during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing ADHD or autism. What’s particularly concerning is that it’s the most commonly used painkiller among pregnant women.

Believe it or not, these findings are not the first of their kind. In a November 2017 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers analyzed 112,973 offspring (2,246 of whom doctors diagnosed with ADHD) from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.

After finding mothers who used acetaminophen for over three weeks, researchers concluded that “[long-term] maternal use of acetaminophen during pregnancy was substantially associated with ADHD even after adjusting for indications of use, familial risk of ADHD, and other potential confounders.”[1]

This suggests that pregnant woman should never rely on painkillers such as Tylenol longer than is necessary.

Another study published in April 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics analyzed 64,322 mothers (more than half of whom confirmed using acetaminophen while pregnant) and children using data from the Danish National Birth Cohort between 1996 to 2002. What researchers found was that their children “were at higher risk for receiving a hospital diagnosis of [hyperkinetic disorders]… use of ADHD medications… or having ADHD-like behaviors at age 7 years.”[2]

Clearly, these studies are not small and, therefore, demand further study – especially when the well-being of children is at stake. But if those studies are not enough to highlight the dangers of using acetaminophen during pregnancy, check out the new one below.

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Can Acetaminophen Really Cause Autism or ADHD?

acetaminophen during pregnancy

Many scientists hesitate to claim that this study is proof of causation instead of mere association. However, the April 2018 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology does seem to be another study proving that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen can potentially cause ADHD and autism.[3]

A team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted the first meta-analysis and “most comprehensive study ever conducted” on the topic, according to the study’s lead author Dr. Ilan Matok.[4]

With the hope of better evaluating the true risk of children developing ADHD and autism, Dr. Matok and his team collected data from relevant studies up to 2017. These studies provided data from 132,738 mother-child pairs who also had follow-up periods of between three and eleven years.[3]

Researchers then compared mothers who did not take acetaminophen during pregnancy to ones who did. In comparison, children whose mothers did take acetaminophen for extended periods of time were more at-risk.

In fact, researchers concluded that fetuses’ prolonged exposure to the popular painkiller can increase their risk of:[5]

  • ADHD by 30%
  • Autism by 20%

“Our findings suggest an association between prolonged acetaminophen use and an increase in the risk of autism and ADHD,” says Dr. Matok.

Natural Painkillers to Replace Acetaminophen

While that may be true, the body of evidence pointing towards the health risks of exposure to acetaminophen during pregnancy is growing. If you want to minimize your risk or the risk of someone you know, consider natural painkillers.

[1] Ystrom, E., Gustavson, K., Brandlistuen, R. E., Knudsen, P., Magnus, P., Susser, E., . . . Reichborn-Kjennerud, T. (2017, November 01). Prenatal Exposure to Acetaminophen and Risk of ADHD. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/5/e20163840

[2] Liew, Z. (2014, April 01). Acetaminophen, Behavior, and HKDs. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1833486

[3] M., R., L., H., G., E., . . . I. (2018, April 24). Prenatal Exposure to Acetaminophen and Risk for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autistic Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Regression Analysis of Cohort Studies | American Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/aje/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/aje/kwy086/4980325?redirectedFrom=fulltext

[4] Bachner, M., Gross, J. A., Winer, S., Newman, M., Magid, J., Surkes, S., . . . AP. (n.d.). Israeli research links acetaminophen during pregnancy to autism, ADHD. Retrieved from https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-research-links-acetaminophen-during-pregnancy-to-autism-adhd/

[5] Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (2018, April 24). Prolonged acetaminophen use during pregnancy linked to increased ASD and ADHD risk. Retrieved from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-04-prolonged-acetaminophen-pregnancy-linked-asd.html

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Jordan Nisbet
Staff Writer
Writer at the Hearty Soul.
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