Cocktail of additives found in child medicines

Dan Bell
Saturday March 10, 2007
The Guardian

Children’s medicines contain a cocktail of additives which are banned in food and drink aimed at under-threes, says a report out today from the Food Commission.

Dyes, preservatives, and sweeteners were found in cough syrups, paracetamol tablets and teething gels. One product contained eight E numbers.

The campaign group looked at 41 medicines for children under three. Only one, Superdrug children’s dry cough syrup, was totally free of colourings and preservatives. Some of the additives can lead to asthma or act as mild laxatives, and most are banned from food and drink for under-threes, even though they are allowed in medicines aimed at young children.

Across the medicines analysed, there were four synthetic colourings or azo dyes, 10 preservatives, and six sweeteners. Some 31 out of 41 products contained preservatives, the most common being benzoates – E numbers E210 to E219; reactions can include skin rashes or wheezing. Only some of the medicines displayed warnings of additives’ possible side effects.

Buttercup infant cough syrup had two E number dyes, while Calpol paracetamol, Anbesol teething gel, Sudafed children’s syrup, and Superdrug children’s chesty cough syrup, contained one azo dye apiece. Tixylix night cough syrup, sold for children over one year old, contained both benzoate and sulphite preservatives. Some medicines contained sweeteners sorbitol, maltitol and xylitol, which can have a laxative effect in high doses.

A Food Commission spokesman, Ian Tokelove, said additives were usually listed in the fine print inside the product packs. “If you are a concerned parent, you are often not going to know what is in medicine until you get it home.”

The commission is lobbying the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to ensure child medicines are additive-free. The agency said drug manufacturers were required to justify any additives before getting a licence to market a product; some needed preservatives to maintain their shelf-life.

“Many also have a very unpleasant taste, and require sweeteners and other flavours to help ensure palatability, especially for children,” it said. “Some people, including children, have to take multiple medicines and easy identification by colour and other means helps ensure they take the right medicine at the right time.”

The report said natural colourings were an alternative to synthetic azo dyes.

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