Are expensive cough mixtures a waste of time Which casts doubt on health claims
07:13 GMT, 15 October 2012
Effective: Benylin cough syrup is popular off the shelves, but just how effective is it
Popular medicines we spend billions of pounds on a year do not work as well as they claim to do, according to experts.
Brands such as Benylin, Covonia, Seven Seas and Bach are part of an over-the-counter healthcare industry with sales worth more than £3billion a year.
But an assessment by consumer campaigners Which and a panel of medical experts has questioned what health benefits they have.
Cough syrups are among the highest-selling pharmacy medicines during the winter months.
The manufacturer of Benylin Chesty Coughs Non-Drowsy claims it ‘works deep down to loosen phlegm, clear bronchial congestion, and make your cough more productive’.
But the Which experts said the company provided no evidence of effectiveness.
The product’s key active ingredient is guaifenesin, but the experts said the studies which are used to support the claims of its effectiveness are low quality.
Benylin Tickly Coughs is said to have ‘soothing effects’ and ‘relieves tickly, dry coughs’.
The active ingredients of the mixture are sugar alcohol (glycerol) and liquid sugar (sucrose).
It also includes other sugars such as black treacle.
The experts said the mixture is roughly half sugar and its effectiveness is ‘unproven’.
One week of the adult maximum dose of the Benylin Tickly Coughs mixture is equivalent to eating the sugar contained in five Mars bars.
The team was similarly sceptical about the claims made for Covonia Herbal Mucus Cough Syrup. Which said companies must be honest about what these products – which are often expensive – can do, particularly when it comes to important issues like health.
Watch your money: Millions of us pay high prices when it comes to finding a cure for a cough
A spokesman said: ‘We spend billions on over-the-counter pharmacy products each year but we’ve found evidence of popular products making claims that our experts judged just aren’t backed by sufficient evidence.
‘Companies should be upfront with the evidence behind the claims they make so that consumers can make an informed decision.’
A number of studies have identified glucosamine, omega 3 and chondroitin as having beneficial effects in terms of protecting ageing joints.
And various medicines have latched on to these claims in order to increase sales.
But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently ruled the evidence was not strong enough to substantiate the claims.
Seven Seas Jointcare Be Active tablets contain the three ingredients and use the marketing claim: ‘Keep really active with this everyday plan to look after your joints.’
The Which experts said the amount of the three ingredients in the tablets was ‘well below effective levels’.
Down in one: Which has investigated the effectiveness of a number of medicines
Another product the panel examined was Bach Rescue Remedy Spray, a flower essence which is claimed to comfort and reassure.
The firm claims it ‘provides support at times of emotional stress’. However, the experts pointed to research showing it is no more or less effective than a placebo.
Bio-Oil is promoted on the basis it can improve the appearance of scars but Which said it was likely to be no more effective than the use of massage with other moisturising lotions.
Adios Slimming tablets include the active plant extracts boldo, butternut, dandelion root and fucus.
These are said to ‘help speed up weight loss by acting on the body’s metabolism’.
The experts said the trials used as evidence to back up the claims were not robust enough.
Boots Cold & Flu Relief tablets are sold to relieve symptoms such as fever, aches and pains.
However, the dosage of paracetamol of 400mg is below the 500mg which is normally recommended.
The manufacturers of the products examined by Which said that they all met the standards of the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which requires evidence to demonstrate they work.
The MHRA said: ‘All medicines licensed in the UK have demonstrated efficacy.
‘It is a legal requirement for the licence holder to be able to justify, at all times, the efficacy of the medicinal product.’