The Difference Between Tylenol, Aspirin, Advil, and Aleve

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s the morning after a wild night out. You stumble to the medicine cabinet and stare blearily at the array of over-the-counter painkillers, wondering which one will bring the quickest relief (and why all the labels have to be so darn bright). Fortunately, you’ve taped this article to the cabinet door, and instead of guessing, you can just check our handy guide below.

TYLENOL (ACETAMINOPHEN)

There are two main types of non-prescription painkillers: acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which includes basically everything that is not acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is the most popular pain-relieving option the world over, and it works by encouraging the brain to stop sending pain signals. 

Best for: Headaches and muscle aches

Not great for: Inflammation and joint pain

Watch out for: Taking too much acetaminophen, or mixing acetaminophen and alcohol, can lead to liver damage, and acetominophen is one of the drugs most frequently involved in overdose. Check the bottle to find out the maximum safe dose, and take it seriously.

ASPIRIN (ACETYLSALICYLIC ACID)

Aspirin and other NSAIDs work by decreasing your body’s production of enzymes that create pain-related chemicals. When prescribed by a doctor and taken every day, a small dose of aspirin can help lower the risk of heart attack or stroke for some people.

Best for: Reducing cardiovascular risk

Not great for: Intense pain  

Watch out for: Aspirin can be hard on the gut, liver, and kidney. Talk to your doctor to find out if it’s safe for you. Use caution when giving aspirin to children.

ADVIL AND MOTRIN (IBUPROFEN)

Ibuprofen is a pretty versatile drug, with the power to help with a broad range of aches, pains, and other complaints. 

Best for: Hangover (there you go!), menstrual cramps, sore or injured muscles, sinus pain, earaches, and toothaches

Not great for: Chronic headache

Watch out for: Ibuprofen carries most of the same risks as aspirin but is often available in higher doses, which can be even harder on your body. It’s also fast-acting and fast-fading, which might lead to more frequent doses.

ALEVE (NAPROXEN)

Naproxen is slow to kick in but longer lasting than ibuprofen, making it a good choice for people with mild-to-moderate chronic pain.

Best for: Inflammation, hangover, lasting headache, arthritis

Not great for: Quick pain relief

Watch out for: Like all NSAIDs, naproxen carries some cardiovascular risk and is associated with stomach distress.

THE UPSHOT

Taking too much of any painkiller is bad for you, and not just in the ways we’ve already discussed. People who rely on over-the-counter medication for daily headaches often find that the medication itself can cause additional headaches, called rebound headaches. If you find yourself taking over-the-counter drugs for the same reason every day, it’s time to talk to your doctor about the underlying issue and other treatment options.

The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your cousins for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer tells WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the homestyle mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]

Sorry, Plant Parents: Study Shows Houseplants Don’t Improve Air Quality

sagarmanis/iStock via Getty Images
sagarmanis/iStock via Getty Images

Sometimes accepted wisdom needs a more thorough vetting process. Case in point: If you’ve ever heard that owning plants can improve indoor air quality in your home or office and act as a kind of organic air purifier or cleaner, you may be disappointed to learn that there’s not a whole lot of science to back that theory up. In fact, plants will do virtually nothing for you in that respect.

This botanic bummer comes from Drexel University researchers, who just published a study in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. Examining 30 years of previous findings, Michael Waring, an associate professor of architectural and environmental engineering, found only scant evidence that plants do anything to filter contaminants from indoor air.

Many of these studies were limited, the study says, by unrealistic conditions. Plants would often be placed in a sealed chamber, with a single volatile organic compound (VOC) introduced to contaminate the air inside. While the VOCs decreased over a period of hours or days, Waring found that the studies placed little emphasis on measuring the clean air delivery rate (CADR), or how effectively an air purifier can “clean” the space. When Waring converted the studies' results to CADR, the plants's ability to filter contaminants was much weaker than simply introducing fresh air to disperse VOCs. (Additionally, no one is likely to live in a sealed chamber.)

The notion of plants as natural air filters likely stemmed from a NASA experiment in 1989 which argued that plants could remove certain compounds from the air. As with the other studies, it took place in a sealed environment, which made the results difficult to translate to a real-world environment.

Plants can clean air, but their efficiency is so minimal that Waring believes it would take between 10 and 1000 of them per square meter of floor space to have the same effect as simply opening a window or turning on the HVAC system to create an air exchange. Enjoy all the plants you like for their beauty, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to help you breathe any easier.

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