Could this medicine cabinet standby increase cancer risk?

California can be a crazy place. But I do respect how thoroughly they try to protect the health of their residents.

The Golden State has long been ahead of its time in terms of transparency and labeling regulations. And now, they’re preparing to take on a behemoth: acetaminophen.

It’s one of the most popular over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers on the market. You can find it in hundreds of medications—both prescription and OTC, for adults and kids alike. Most commonly in products like Tylenol®, Excedrin®, Sudafed®, Robitussin®, or Theraflu®.

And guess what? California wants it listed as a carcinogen.

A proposition for the people

Americans have been able get acetaminophen without a script since the 1950s. But did you know that a closely related drug, a once-common painkiller called phenacetin, has been banned since 1983 due to its links to cancer?

So it’s not like all this is coming out of nowhere.

California regulators have looked at more than 130 published and peer-reviewed studies on acetaminophen. Some of them did, in fact, report an increase in cancer risk. But others didn’t. And authorities like the International Agency for Research on Cancer have been hesitant to list it as a possible carcinogen for that exact reason.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is coming right out and warning that any label suggesting that acetaminophen might cause cancer would be “false and misleading.” And thereby, illegal according to federal law. (Another example where the FDA takes the side of drug makers… Imagine that!)

But in case you’re unfamiliar, California has a state law of its own—Proposition 65—which mandates that consumers be warned about any chemical with links to cancer or reproductive toxicity.

The list of chemicals that check this box is extensive. In fact, it now reaches nearly a thousand—from toxic pesticides to flame retardants. And needless to say, it’s the most comprehensive collection of its kind.

As California goes…

Despite what the federal government says, Proposition 65 is there to protect consumers—not just in California, but across the country—by giving manufacturers a compelling reason to ensure their product’s safety. And while it may take things a bit too far, personally, I’m all for it.

When it comes to the public health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This specific case is tricky, because acetaminophen happens to be a very commonly used drug. But really, that shouldn’t make any difference at all. If anything, it’s all the more reason to warn consumers.

It’s true that being added to this list can carry serious consequences. But I fail to see how that’s a bad thing.

Consider glyphosate—which you might know better as the weed killer Roundup®. When California added it to their carcinogen list in 2017, the manufacturer was ordered to pay $87 million in restitution to a couple who claimed the chemical caused their cancer.

And that’s just one of some 13,000 pending lawsuits involving glyphosate. Not to mention the considerable damage that’s been done to its reputation in the last several years. (All warranted, in my humble opinion.)

Which makes me wonder…will Tylenol® be next? Who knows. Even so-called “independent reviews” have suggested no associated risk for most forms of cancer—but some indication of increased risk of kidney, liver, and blood cancer.

The fact that any studies show any increased risk whatsoever should be a huge red flag, though. Especially because it’s not the only risk that acetaminophen brings to the table…

It also happens to be the leading cause of liver toxicity in the U.S. And that, folks, is a well-known FACT! It’s just one of many reasons to rethink how readily available we make this drug.

As California goes, so goes the nation—that’s what they say, at least. And in this particular case, let’s certainly hope so.

Of course, it turns out there may be one case where acetaminophen may actually be your safest option. More on that tomorrow… so, as always, stay tuned!

Until next time,

Dr. Fred

P.S. In addition to liver toxicity, I often talk about the many dangers of OTC painkillers, like acetaminophen and NSAIDS. If you’re a Logical Health Alternatives subscriber, a simple search in the archives will turn up several articles about the many potential risks of these drugs—from heart attack and stroke, to increased back pain. So what are you waiting for? Sign up today!


California considers declaring common pain killer carcinogen.” ABC News, 01/21/2020. (