/ Health, Shopping

Cough! The health products you don’t need

Selection of health products

We Brits spend about £3bn a year on over-the-counter pharmacy products, yet our snapshot research found popular products making claims that our experts don’t think are backed up by sufficient evidence.

I’ve got a cough and cold but what to do? There’s a bewildering array of products on the shelves at my local pharmacy, but what’s actually scientifically proven to work, and should I just keep my money in my wallet?

We bought popular health remedies from chemists, and our expert panel examined the claims made on them. They found no compelling evidence that convinced them any of these products were needed.

Where’s the cough medicine evidence?

For example, our experts examined the published evidence for cough medicines Benylin Tickly Coughs, Benylin Chesty Coughs (both Non-Drowsy) and Covonia Herbal Mucus Cough Syrup, and concluded there’s ‘no robust evidence’ that they do what’s said on the bottle.

And you may be getting more than you bargained for with Benylin Tickly Coughs. Sugar is its main ingredient, with 7.7g (a generous 1.5 teaspoons) in every 10ml dose. If you had an adult’s maximum dose for a week, you’d have eaten the same amount of sugar as in five Mars bars.

So how do these products pass the regulator’s tests? Cough medicines are licensed medicines and the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), told us the licence-holder is legally required to show them the evidence that they work.

We asked the manufacturers to share the research behind their claims so that our experts could ensure they’d seen all the relevant evidence. The companies declined, saying they had satisfied the regulator who had thoroughly reviewed their clinical evidence.

Companies don’t have to share the evidence they’ve supplied to the MHRA. But what are we to do if we aren’t allowed to see this? How can we know if the science behind what we’re buying is robust enough for us to trust their claims?

Seven Seas, Rescue Remedy and Adios

What else did we find? Well, Seven Seas Jointcare tablets claim to ‘look after your joints’, but our experts concluded that there’s no evidence that its active ingredients can do this.

Our panel said the trials behind Adios, which claims to be a natural way to speed up weight loss, are not robust enough to prove that it’s actually an effective slimming aid. And Bach Rescue Remedy is apparently no more effective at relieving stress than a placebo, according to independent tests.

These products aren’t cheap: Seven Seas Jointcare Be Active is £12.45 for 30 tablets (not even a month’s supply). Adios costs £10.69 for 100 tablets (about a month’s worth).

You can check out these examples and more in our gallery of ten health products we think you don’t need, but make sure to share the ones you think need to be examined.

Health products on a shelf

In the end, manufacturers need to be more transparent so that we can scrutinise what’s really behind their products and make a truly informed decision when we’re after a health remedy.

Argus says:
15 October 2012

How much money is in Pharma?

There’s your answer. If all these products can get to market and sold in their million because the marketing tells us they are good for us, then we are going to believe it.

Companies like Which and the regulators are clearly letting us down.

Personally I never take remedies, hardcore post-op pills are the only thing that work for me


I hardly think Which? can be accused of letting us down. Over the decades Which? has persistently examined product claims, particularly in the medicine sector, and recommended stricter approval regimes. The drug industry needs a whole coven of Which?s on its case full time.


Some cough remedies warn against taking with alcohol because this can make you rather drowsy. Taken with a little cooking whisky they can help provide a good night’s sleep. 🙂

Always read the label and follow instructions, of course.

Sophie Gilbert says:
16 October 2012

More doctors need to tell people not to waste their money on cough medicine, like mine did a long time ago. Instead, as per her “prescription”, take a hot drink with honey in it, or a teaspoonful of honey by itself. Along the lines of Wavechange’s suggestion, a hot toddy (I take mine with cooking brandy, honey and a splash of lemon juice) just before going to bed will help the throat a little, help towards a good night’s sleep, add to the hot liquid intake, and it’s not bad for the soul either.


There was a W.C. Fields film in which an odious child was sent out to get some cough remedy with “ippicac”. Hence I always take “honey, lemon and glycerine linctus with Ipecacuanha” – available from most chemists and supermarkets at a very modest price. W.C. would have added a tincture of the grainy spirit to his potion – after all, he famously remarked that he always took a bottle of whisky with him in case he saw a snake; he also took a snake.


It depends – I do not use patent medicines usually – For instance the last time I had flu was seventeen years ago – but to ease the symptoms – I used Gee’s Linctus – worked well – still have 3/4 of the bottle – In fact Gees has worked well for me for some 60 years. Rather like the last time I had a migrainy headache – went to doctors who gave me a 400 pack of Ibuprofen – two tablets worked – at present use they will last me 200 years.


Proper drowsy Benylin isn’t so easy to get hold of these days, seems to be a bit ‘under the counter’ in some chemists and you have to pass an interview to get hold of it. But chased down with a large scotch at bedtime it’s a pretty good anaesthetic.

I wouldn’t take much notice of the sugar content, you’d have to be a pretty dedicated user to get fat on this stuff.

hoppingpinkrabbit says:
18 October 2012

Its not the fat you got to worry about, its your teeth!