Never take this over-the-counter pain killer if you’re deficient in selenium

You’ve probably taken Tylenol many times in your life. Most of us have… whether it was to relieve a headache, reduce fever or tame a toothache. But unfortunately, like many over-the-counter pain relievers, it comes with risks.

Tylenol (which is also known as acetaminophen or paracetamol) is linked to increased risks of heart attacks, stomach bleeding, liver failure and kidney failure. And these risks don’t only apply to people who take too much…

Even people who take standard doses have experienced liver failure as a result. Of course, the chances of this happening are typically slim. But a new study shows there’s one factor that could put you at a higher risk of “overdosing” on Tylenol even when you take the proper amount — a selenium deficiency.

Too little selenium makes Tylenol hard for the liver to handle

A new collaborative study from researchers at the University of Bath and Southwest University in China found that mice with selenium deficiency are more likely to end up with liver failure after taking normal doses of paracetamol.

In several mouse models, these researchers found that as selenium levels went down, the risk of liver damage from paracetamol went up. And they think they know why…

It’s already proven that selenium deficiency can make it harder for people to eliminate drugs from their bodies. That means, even if someone with selenium deficiency takes a normal dose of a drug, they could end up “overdosing” and damaging their liver. Why does selenium impact how the body processes drugs?

Because selenium helps cells maintain a balance between antioxidants and free radicals. When selenium levels get low, too many free radicals form in the liver and it’s not able to do its job of metabolizing drugs as efficiently. This can lead to DNA and organ damage, like what happened to the mice in the study.

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The connection between selenium and drug metabolization is critical to keep top of mind, especially when it comes to your use of popular over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol, which many of us take without a second thought because we think they’re low risk.

“This study shows that the link between selenium status in the diet and paracetamol toxicity is very important. I hope people pay attention to these findings, given everyone has paracetamol in their homes. And now with people falling ill with COVID-19, paracetamol is being taken more than ever,” said Dr. Charareh Pourzand who led the research.

How high does your selenium intake need to be to stay safe?

So, how high should your selenium levels be in order to take Tylenol safely? Ideally, most adults should get 55 mcg of selenium per day. But be careful when it comes to selenium supplements. Selenium levels that are too high also put you at a greater risk of liver damage from drugs. It’s a fine balance.

Related: High selenium diet increases chance of COVID-19 survival

Fortunately, you should be able to get plenty of selenium from food. Some selenium-rich foods include:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna
  • Halibut
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt
  • Lentils
  • Bananas
  • Peaches
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce

You may also want to carefully consider whether it’s worth taking Tylenol in the first place. Even if your selenium levels are normal, it comes with the risks I mentioned above. And some research shows it’s not even all that effective for conditions like chronic back pain and arthritis. It’s about as good as a placebo for these chronic conditions. It’s a bit more effective for acute pain like headaches. But even then, research shows it only improves pain for one in 10 people.

So, next time you think about popping a Tylenol for pain, consider something safer and more effective instead, like vitamin D. Researchers have found that vitamin D affects the body’s inflammation response in a way that lowers the sensation of pain. That makes sense since vitamin D deficiency is tied to an increased risk for pain-related conditions like fibromyalgia and rheumatic diseases.

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  1. Easy to overdose on paracetamol if you’re selenium deficient, says research — MedicalXpress.
  2. Selenium Status in Diet Affects Acetaminophen-Induced Hepatotoxicity via Interruption of Redox Environment — Antioxidants & Redox Signaling.
  3. What’s the point of paracetamol? — The Conversation.
  4. Acetaminophen: Is it as safe as we think? — Medical News Today.
  5. Selenium — National Institutes of Health.


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and