Save Your Cough Syrup Money!

A placebo effect occurs when a product is perceived as being a cure or a benefit but that product is, in reality, inert and neither helps nor hurts. The American College of Chest Physicians is now advising those who have colds that over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrups and drops are worthless for their intended purpose of stopping your cough.


Surprisingly, there is no scientific evidence that either suppressants like dextromethorphan or expectorants like guaifenesin relieve cold-related coughs. This was found back in 2004 by a different group, the non-profit Cochrane Collaboration, which discovered no good evidence either for or against the effectiveness of OTC cough medicines.

Keep in mind, every single OTC product that says it helps your cough was approved by the FDA. The drug company selling each and every one of them spent sometimes millions of dollars bringing that product to market. Yet it's highly possible that not one of them helps in any way other than as a placebo effect. You think it helps your cough so it does. But they also may contain some form of drowsiness inducing drug that helps you sleep when you need it. That's not always a bad thing, but perhaps it is only that which makes you feel better and nothing about your cough is touched by it.

Who knows?

A cynic might say the drug companies put out the OTC's that do nothing so you buy them, often needing something stronger so you go to your doctor and then buy a more expensive prescription cough syrup that may work. A cynic might say either OTC or prescription drugs, the FDA gets its fees both times too. A reasonable person, and that is the category you should fall into since you're reading this book and actively looking for health answers, just looks at the evidence and says OTC cough syrups don't appear to help coughs, so perhaps that is one OTC product you may want to eliminate.

One thing to keep in mind though, cynic or not: A spokesperson for Wyeth – the maker of Robitussin – defended the value of such worthless OTC cough syrup products based on consumer demand and their safety. That same spokesperson also failed to mention the dangers of cough medications, including the fact that dextromethorphan can cause birth defects and has become one of the leading abused drugs among adolescents in recent years.

It pays to know more than most people do about the products we take.

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