July 1, 2022

Don’t be fooled by the alarmism surrounding paracetamol and pregnancy


Paracetamol is as effective and safe as any medicine can be. Since its first formulation at the end of the 19th century, tens of millions of people will have benefited from its rapid relief from a multitude of painful ailments – headaches, backaches, toothaches, etc. The doctor’s prescription bible, the British National Formulary, describes side effects as “rare” and notes that it is “not known to be harmful” when taken during pregnancy.

So it would take, one might suppose, extremely convincing evidence to say otherwise, as stated in this article last week: the claim by a group of researchers that it can harm the growth of the fetus in the womb. resulting in infertility, genital abnormalities and a range of neurodevelopmental conditions – autism, attention deficit disorder, language delay, low IQ, etc.

Their review, published in a reputable journal, certainly seems to be authoritative, but on close reading it turns out to be extremely disappointing. “A growing body of research suggests that prenatal exposure may alter the development of the fetus,” he opens – referring to several scientific articles. Dig them up and what do we find? Yes, a Danish study found a slight increase in the risk of genital abnormalities, but another in Finland shows the reverse – where taking paracetamol during pregnancy had a protective effect. A link with language delay has been reported in girls, but inexplicably not in boys.

Experts concede the evidence is “modest” but tendentiously argue that, since so many women occasionally take paracetamol during pregnancy, “a small effect could translate into a large number of children affected.” There is, in short, nothing in their overwhelming and anxiety-provoking review to contradict the verdict that taking paracetamol during pregnancy “is not known to be harmful”.

Following the NHS Pharmaceutical Director’s recent investigation into the “serious problem” of overprescribing unnecessary drugs, one reader writes to tell the following instructive story. Now in the late 1970s, his suspicions that his daily regimen of three different antihypertensive drugs might be excessive seemed to hold true when he had collapsed. Her family doctor recognized that it was probably due to a sudden drop in her blood pressure and suggested that she stop two of her three types of pills. Since then his readings have stayed well within the normal range and he feels “much better.” “I only wish I had insisted that my meds be reviewed much sooner,” he writes and urges others to do the same.

Can you cure a “smelly scalp”?

This week’s request comes courtesy of Ms BJ of Leicester, troubled since the birth of her first child 17 years ago by what she calls ‘smelly scalp syndrome’. “I wash my hair every day but after a few hours my scalp is oily and has an unpleasant odor like it hasn’t been washed in days,” she writes. This makes her so aware that she “hates being around people.”

The only respite, oddly enough, was following keyhole surgery to remove his gallbladder when, for a few weeks, his scalp “smelled good all day.” Others, she wondered, could they suggest an explanation or, better yet, a cure.

Find Comfort For Your Knee Pain

Finally, my apologies to anyone who couldn’t locate the reference to the quadriceps strengthening exercises / hamstring stretches mentioned a fortnight ago. They can be found by clicking here. And, on a related topic, the same exercises are recommended for those who are bothered by a dull, aching ache when running or climbing stairs (aka patellofemoral syndrome). This is not due to arthritis – x-rays are normal – but rather misalignment of the kneecap (or patella) as it moves up and down during knee flexion and is correctable by strengthening the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh.