There are two over-the-counter remedies that are in greater demand this time of year – the cough and cold remedy, and the weight-loss supplement after the Christmas binge.
And it just so happens that both are the subjects of a major health scare in the USA, where consumers are being urged to read the label before buying.
The concern centres on an ingredient called phenylpropanolamine (PPA), which acts as a decongestant in cold and cough supplements, and as an appetite-suppressant. It can cause haemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain), and it’s estimated that up to 500 people die every year after taking a product containing PPA. The greatest at-risk group is women aged between 18 and 49, and the stroke tends to happen within three days of starting treatment.
The American drugs regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is asking all manufacturers to immediately remove the ingredient from their products, and this is already starting to happen.
Until then, there will be many products that contain PPA still on the shelves. In the UK, consumers will have to be more vigilant as our own Medicines Control Agency has so far ignored the happenings in the States, and products containing PPA are still being sold every day.
Not for the first time, people in Britain will have to act as their own drug watchdog. Throw away any products in your medicine chest that contains PPA – and you’ll be surprised how many well-known remedies have it as an ingredient – and read the labels carefully before replacing them.
If you have been taking the products, don’t worry. Researchers haven’t found any build-up over time, so you haven’t increased your risk of a stroke. On average, the stroke seems to happen within three days, or not at all.