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?
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.
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.