Be mindful of pain pills

Over-the-counter drugs could make you less empathetic.

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A new meta-analysis found that taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen could decrease your empathy for other people and reduce sentimental attachment to objects. Moreover, researchers concluded that taking over-the-counter painkillers can make women less hurt by social exclusion and betrayal, while conversely making men more sensitive to these factors.


The research certainly suggests there could be mental benefits to taking these medications, especially for people who are highly emotional, says study author Kyle Ratner, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, there isn't enough information yet on dosage, NSAID type (acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen), gender differences, or nuanced effects to say people should avoid taking them in certain situations or use them in others, he adds.

And although these drugs don't require a prescription, they can still have dangerous off-label side effects, says Ratner. For example, previous studies have found that regularly taking ibuprofen can adversely affect fertility and cost you muscle gains.


Further research is needed to determine how to best leverage pain pills to regulate mood levels. But based on his study analysis, you’re better off skipping them on days where your emotions need to be sharp and you'll need to express empathy (such as a conversation with a friend who just missed their PR or got injured).