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Tylenol May Help Reduce Anxiety

Update Date: Apr 16, 2013 12:40 PM EDT

Tylenol has long been used as a remedy for pains like headaches and stomach aches. However, researchers say that the painkiller may be able to serve as a potential remedy for a different kind of pain: anxiety about life. According to a recent study, it may stave off the psychological effects of anxiety over the human condition and death.

"Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death," lead author Daniel Randles, from the University of British Columbia's Department of Psychology, said in a statement. "Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as 'pain' by the brain - but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong."

The study was performed with participants who took either a placebo or acetaminophen, the generic version of Tylenol. First, the participants of the study performed tasks that were intended to evoke the type of existential anxiety that researchers wanted to study. Those tasks involved writing about death or watching a video directed by David Lynch, a director of movies like Mulholland Drive and creator of television shows like Twin Peaks, and is known for being dark and surreal. After having performed these tasks, the participants needed to levy fines for various hypothetical crimes, like public rioting and prostitution.

Researchers found that the participants who took acetaminophen were more lenient with punishments for crimes than people who had taken a placebo. The participants who had taken the painkiller were also better equipped to cope with troubling ideas.

"That a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches may also numb people to the worry of thoughts of their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film - is a surprising and very interesting finding," Randles added.

Researchers note that more research needs to be performed before doctors start recommending Tylenol to patients suffering from anxiety, even if it is mild. However, this is not the first study to find that Tylenol was able to alleviate pain that was not physical. A previous study found that acetaminophen was able to help people cope with the psychological pain of feeling ostracized from their friends.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

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