Paracetamol (or acetaminophen in the US) is the most widely used painkiller in the world. And considering it's a drug that's so freely available, you'd imagine that it must be safe. Indeed, our drugs watchdogs assure us that it is when taken at the recommended dose of 4 g/day. It's not. One study has discovered that it was the cause of liver damage in up to 44 per cent of all participants who were taking it at the standard dose. In fact, paracetamol has become the major cause of acute liver failure in the US and Europe, a condition that will almost certainly kill the patient unless the diseased organ is replaced.
Some of these cases have been the result of unintentional overdose-where perhaps one tablet too many has been taken-and fatalities have occurred at dosages as low as 7 g/day, just 3 g above the recommended dose.
Despite the evidence, America's Food and Drug Administration isn't changing the way the drug is so easily obtainable over the counter (Lancet, 2006; 368: 2395-6).