Genexa's 'Clean Children's Medicine' is a Dirty Trick

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"If you dust off a turd, it's still a turd." Even by my (admittedly) low standards, this is rather crude. But, what does it mean? I take aim at Genexa, a company that advertises "real medicine, made clean." A clever marketing scheme, but just a pile of ####.

There's really no delicate way to say this. If you dust off a turd, it's still a turd. 

Keeping with the scatological motif for a moment, Genexa, a company formed to "[make] clean medicines that you can trust, brags about bringing a revolution in OTC drugs by '"making clean medicine available to all," by educating people about what they are putting in their bodies. What a crock of ####.

Most people with a pulse should know by now that the "back to nature" movement is little more than a manipulative attempt to convince consumers that they are poisoning themselves with all kinds of artificial, rather than natural, ingredients (as if there's a difference), (1) and that if we only get those nasty ingredients out of our life we might live long enough to say, see Elon Musk open the first Pizza Hut franchise on Mars.

Images: Wikipedia, NASA, Geograph

Genexa, "the first clean medicine company," has taken manipulation to a new level. The company (and if you can watch one of their TV ads without spewing, hats off) wants you to believe that their OTC "medications" are wonderful because they have taken all of the icky synthetic things out of their drugs leaving nothing but magical nectar created by Mother Earth herself. 

Here's one of their clean, natural drugs – Tylenol (acetaminophen).

Genexa's portrayal of acetaminophen – that their stuff is grown by flaxen-haired virgins in a pristine garden fed by a crystal clear mountain spring – isn't precisely correct. But this is.

The source of Tylenol/acetaminophen - an oil refinery. Photo: Wikipedia

How can this be? It's called organic synthesis and aside from containing a carbon atom (2), there is nothing organic (and certainly not natural) whatsoever about acetaminophen. Here is how the stuff is made.

Acetaminophen synthesis, Part 1. Phenol, a toxic carcinogen (3), is one of the components of crude oil. It is separated from the rest of the chemicals during the refining process. Phenol reacts with nitric acid to give a mixture of 4-nitrophenol (the desired product) and 2-nitrophenol, an impurity. Purified 4-nitrophenol is obtained by distillation.

Quiz! It is fairly easy to separate the two isomers because there is a large difference in boiling points. 2-Nitro boils at 216oC while 4-nitro boils at a much higher 279oC. Why? There may or may not be a prize for the dork person who gets this right!


Acetaminophen synthesis, Part 2. 4-Nitrophenol is reduced (there are many ways to do this) to give 4-aminophenol (a chemical for developing black and white photos) which is then reacted with acetic anhydride, forming acetaminophen.  This is natural?

Well, Genexa wants you to think so. Here is how the company defines "clean medicine:"

Hence, the rather oblique metaphor about dusting off a turd. Genexa suggests (to put it mildly) that if you take Tylenol and dust off a few harmless ingredients like sugar or some imaginary GMO ingredient (4), and replace them with agave syrup, citrus extract, or purified water (as if the other Tylenol syrups use raw sewage), then all of a sudden it's a Jonas Salk moment – a "magic Tylenol," which will save your kids from [who knows] while the acetaminophen, a rather dangerous drug, remains behind. 

I hope I haven't upset anyone. After all, it might be conceivable that some would consider this to be in poor taste. But don't blame me. I'm just doing my duty.


(1) The is no difference between a chemical isolated from a living organism and one that was made in a lab. I even wrote a book about this.

(2) There are two very different definitions of the word organic. My op-ed in the Chicago Tribune explains the differences.

(3) Yes, phenol is toxic and carcinogenic but this makes no difference. It is used to make Tylenol but is not in it. The chemicals used to make a drug or another chemical have no bearing on the final product. Yet, we hear "petroleum-derived" all the time. Just a scare tactic. 

(4) What GMO ingredients are found in "regular" Tylenol? Who knows? Yet Genexa claims that its products are "GMO-free." They might as well write "plutonium-free."


The large difference in boiling points between the isomers is due to hydrogen bonding. In the case of 2-nitrophenol, the relative position of the hydroxyl and nitro groups causes the molecule to form an internal hydrogen bond (with itself). In the case of the 4-nitro isomer, no internal hydrogen bond can form (the two groups can't reach each other) so the molecule bonds to another 4-nitro molecule. In a sense, this can be considered to be a "double molecule," which will require a higher temperature to boil. (In general, the larger the molecule the higher the boiling point.)

Image: Chemistry Stack Exchange