Beer, an alternative for paracetamol? | Belicons

Beer, an alternative for paracetamol?

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Monday 1 May 2017

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Beer, an alternative for paracetamol?

Yesterday I read a very remarkable statement on the website of Daily Mail. Beer would be a good painkiller. I can imagine that this appeals to many people. Suppose your general practitioner would one day prescribe beer! That would be great! But they also say that this would lead to other problems.

I think that most people will understand that alcohol cannot be a substitute for beer and would laugh about this news report. Still, I wonder whether beer really is a better painkiller. Or the other way around: is paracetamol really always better than beer as painkiller? Let’s take a better look at this research.

Beer as painkiller?

This research wasn’t just any research. They did 18 studies in which 404 persons participated. The participants were people with chronic pain, so they know what real pain is. Although the title talks about ‘beer’, the research is about how alcohol in general affects pain.

Some people got a drink that contains alcohol, but other people got something that is comparable but contains no alcohol. The people who did drink alcohol felt less pain by a quarter. The research didn't show yet whether the alcohol really took the pain away or that the participants just experienced less pain. In other words: does alcohol do something with the nerves or the brain? That requires more research. Either way, the effect with alcohol as painkiller was stronger than in case of paracetamol.

The idea behind this research is that they wonder whether this will help them find out how to make painkillers without adverse effects. That would be major progress.

Peiling: Paracetamol is een betere pijnbestrijder dan bier

Peiling: Paracetamol is een betere pijnbestrijder dan bier

Poll: Paracetamol is a better pain killer than beer

Poll: Paracetamol is a better pain killer than beer

Read the blog that goes with this poll

Body 2: 

I think that many people who read that alcohol cannot replace paracetamol will regard that as self-evident. They will read it, laugh and continue reading something else. Paracetamol and beer seem to be opposites. We can buy the first at the drug store and it can be prescribed by the doctor when we are in much pain. The second is just about partying and having fun. Still, there are more similarities than we would guess in the first instance.

Alcohol and paracetamol: opposites?

  1. Adverse effects

    If one takes paracetamol so now and then, the chance is small that that becomes a problem. But if one takes in too much, or a high-dose for a long time, then chance is that one gets problems with their livers and in the end one could die.

    The same that goes for alcohol. Drinking alcohol so now and then isn’t that bad, but if one drinks too much at once or a lot each day, this can have many negative consequences too. These consequences are more various than those of paracetamol, but in the end they could both kill you.

  2. Addiction

    People take in paracetamol because something hurts. But it could happen that after a while they feel that they cannot do without. For example, they get headache as an adverse effect and take in paracetamol in order to fight that pain and in that way end up in a chicken-and-egg situation that makes them take more and more paracetamol. So one cannot only get addicted to alcohol, but also to paracetamol.

  3. Painkilling

    And now it turns out that they can both relive pain. This reminded the researchers of the mentioned research of the fact that people who are in pain sometimes start to drink too much too. They now wonder of the fact that alcohol can kill pain to has something to do with this.

    And in both cases it could lead to that people won’t try to find the cause. If one takes in alcohol in order to feel better, but one doesn’t go to the general practitioner and one doesn’t even consider what has caused the pain, then ones needs to keep on taking in alcohol or else the pain will return. And in this way one will get adverse effects and maybe even addiction.

    The same that goes for paracetamol. Some people choose to take a painkiller (could be another pill than paracetamol) without wondering why they are in pain. Have you have spent too much time behind your computer? Have you drunk too much coffee? Have you slept enough? If such things have caused the pain, then you should do something about that. Otherwise, you will keep on taking in painkillers and your problems will become bigger and bigger.

Stepping out of our categories

As human beings we tend to group everything into categories. For example what is good and bad. If someone was in the news negatively, we don't easily change our minds about them even when they do something good. This person falls into the category 'bad'.

In the same way we have categories about what is cheerful and what isn’t. Take for example flowers. If one buys flowers often in order to make ones home more cheerful. Or if one likes to give flowers to others, then flowers belong to the category of ‘cheerful’ or ‘happy’. In that case one will get a happy feeling when one sees flowers. But when one needs to attend funerals or cremations often, then one will think of ‘mourning’ or ‘death’ when one sees people selling flowers.

The same that goes for paracetamol and beer. Paracetamol belongs to the category ‘being sick’ and beer to ‘partying’. Opposite categories and thus similarities between them are hard to imagine. That makes it fun to compare them, but hard to take these comparisons seriously.

Still, this is important. Everyone knows that we need to drink with measure. But taking painkillers with measure that is something we usually don’t hear. Especially in case of ‘being sick’ we think that ‘more’ is always better. Take 'rest' as an example. When you are sick and you need to rest, your general practitioner won’t tell you: ‘rest, but with measure’. And if you have a wound and you want to put some disinfectant on it, the packaging won’t say: ‘disinfect, but with measure’. And I can continue this for a while. We need to party with measure, but in case of healing there don’t seem to be any limits.

Making these categories is convenient, it helps us to remind things more easily and to understand things quicker. But they have downsides too since they can make it difficult for us to see similarities between opposite categories and to take them seriously.

So even though this seems to be a funny research, it also teaches us an important lesson: pain isn’t wrong, it is a signal that our body wants to tell us something. Listen to that, before grasping painkillers, alcohol as well as pills.

What do you think? Do you use a lot of painkillers? Or none at all? Have you ever used alcohol as a painkiller? Share your opinion, below, or on the forum!

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