- Doctors warn some best-known over-the-counter medicines are no better than traditional home-made remedies
- Shoppers spend £2.5billion a year on expensive branded pills when cheaper, generic versions are just as effective
- One of the biggest money-spinners are ‘targeted’ painkillers, which claim to treat specific areas of the body
Some of the best-known over- the-counter medicines are no better than traditional home-made remedies, doctors have warned.
They say shoppers are spending a staggering £2.5 billion a year on expensive branded pills and lotions when cheaper, generic versions are just as effective.
One of the biggest money-spinners is Britain’s £350 million market in ‘targeted’ painkillers, which claim to treat specific areas of the body, such as the back.
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Doctors say shoppers are spending a staggering £2.5 billion a year on expensive branded pills and lotions when cheaper, generic versions are just as effective
But there is no evidence these cleverly marketed painkillers can focus on a particular area, according to Dr Chris Van Tulleken, a microbiologist who has investigated the effectiveness of over-the-counter medicines. In fact, he says, unbranded equivalents work just as well.
Scientists have also cast doubt on the effectiveness of heating or cooling rubs and sprays for muscle strains – a market worth £87 million in Britain. Many of the branded products use emotive language such as ‘deep heat’ or ‘penetrating’, but sport scientists have questioned the honesty of these descriptions.
Further queries have been raised about how effective over-the- counter cough medicines are and whether they are worth the £100 million a year spent on them.
Several experts warn many cough syrups are no better than home-made honey-and-lemon drinks. Meanwhile, doctors say people are often better off taking individual drugs – such as paracetamol for pain, ibuprofen for muscle inflammation and decongestants for a blocked nose – rather than all-in-one remedies which can contain several different drugs.
Dr Van Tulleken tested popular over-the-counter pharmaceuticals in the BBC programme The Truth About Your Medicine Cabinet and concluded ‘most of the products we buy are unnecessary’. He said: ‘If they stopped selling this stuff tomorrow nothing bad would happen. None of it is keeping us alive. It doesn’t do us much good.’
But he stressed that over-the-counter medicines are not completely useless and that some worked very effectively. Even those that had no real physical benefit had a ‘real placebo effect’ that does make people feel better.
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, the trade association representing manufacturers of branded over-the-counter medicines, said all claims made on the packaging of remedies and drugs sold in pharmacies was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
A spokesman added: ‘The over- the-counter medicines people buy to self-treat everyday illnesses already provide a direct saving to the NHS. Empowering more people to self-care for minor ailments has the potential to reduce NHS pressures significantly.’
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