The Truth About Cough Medicine

Everywhere we go, there are toxins. We live in a toxin-filled world. Unfortunately, it's hard to decipher what products possess toxins. Over-the-counter medications are some of the most common places to find toxins–especially cough medicine, which is meant to make you feel better.

Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, was approved by the FDA in 1958 and can be found in at least 70 common over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines, including the “best-selling” Robitussin. DXM has side effects like lethargy, paranoia, hallucinations, and chemical psychosis. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant that is advised not to be given to children under 4.


Other known effects of DXM include:

  • Hot flashes

  • Nausea, vomiting, and dizziness

  • Lack of coordination

  • Panic attacks or seizures

  • Impaired judgment

  • Sweating

  • Lethargy or drowsiness—or hyperactivity

  • Slurred speech

  • High blood pressure

  • Rapid eye movement

  • Rash

  • Racing or pounding heartbeat

  • Regular abuse of DXM at high doses can lead to chemical psychosis (1).

The worst part is that this isn't even the most concerning ingredient, which we will discuss after the top 10 best-selling cough medicines on Amazon, which surprisingly didn't have the absolute worst options, some decent ones, actually.


The Top 10 Best-Selling Cough Syrups on Amazon

Toxic Ingredients Found In Cough Medicine

Natural Cough Relief Recommendations

 

The Top 10 Best-Selling Cough Syrups on Amazon

When I researched the top 10 best-selling cough syrups on Amazon, I was pleasantly surprised to find the first two to be decent products. Of course, as you work down the list, it gradually worsens. Nonetheless, I figured I'd share what the top ten were and provide my own little ratings of them before I go over their toxic ingredients, followed by natural cough relief recommendations.


1. Zarbee's Children's Cough Syrup + Mucus with Dark Honey

Ingredients: Ascorbic Acid, Zinc Gluconate, Proprietary Blend of Dark Honey, English Ivy Leaf Extract, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Water, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid.


My Overall Rating: 7/10; decent ingredients, except the ascorbic acid, which is likely synthetic and natural flavor.


2. Hylands Naturals Kids Cold & Cough, Day and Night Combo Pack

Daytime Ingredients: Allium Cepa 6X HPUS, Hepar Sulph Calc 12X HPUS, Hydrastis 6X HPUS, Natrum Muriaticum 6X HPUS, Phosphorus 12X HPUS, Pulsatilla 6X HPUS, Sulphur 12X HPUS, Citric Acid USP, Glycyrrhiza Extract, Purified Water USP, Sodium Benzoate N.F., Vegetable Glycerine USP.


My Overall Rating: 9/10; great ingredients, but I am unsure how the citric acid is sourced as it could potentially be sourced from black mold.


Nighttime Ingredients: Allium Cepa 6X HPUS, Chamomilla 6X HPUS, Coffea Cruda 6X HPUS, Hepar Sulph Calc. 12X HPUS, Hydrastis 6X HPUS, Natrum Muriaticum 6X HPUS, Phosphorus 12X HPUS, Pulsatilla 6X HPUS, Sulphur 12X HPUS, Citric Acid UPS, Glycyrrhiza Extract, Purified Water UPS, Sodium Benzoate N.F., Vegetable Glycerine USP.


My Overall Rating: 9/10; great ingredients, but I am unsure how the citric acid is sourced as it could potentially be sourced from black mold.


3. Amazon Basic Care Tussin DM Max Cough + Chest Congestion

Ingredients: Dextromethorphan HBr, USP 20 mg; Guaifenesin, USP 400 mg, Acetic Acid, Anhydrous Citric Acid, Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium, FD&C blue no. 1, FD&C red no. 40, Flavor, Glycerin, Menthol, Polyethylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, Purified Water, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Sorbitol Solution, Sucralose, Xanthan Gum.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are dextromethorphan, food coloring, polyethylene glycol, and propylene glycol.


4. Robitussin Maximum Strength Nighttime CoughDM

Ingredients: Dextromethorphan HBr, Doxylamine Succinate, Antihistamine, Anhydrous Citric Acid, Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium, FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Red No. 40, Glycerin, Liquid Glucose, Menthol, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Polyethylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, Purified Water, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Sucralose, Triacetin, Xanthan Gum.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are dextromethorphan, food coloring, natural and artificial flavors, polyethylene glycol, and propylene glycol.


5. Amazon Basic Care Maximum Strength Mucus-DM Max

Ingredients: Dextromethorphan HBr 60 mg, Guaifenesin 1200 mg, Carbomer Homopolymer Type B, Copovidone, D&C yellow #10 Aluminum Lake, Hypromellose, Magnesium Hydroxide, Magnesium Stearate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Silicon Dioxide.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are dextromethorphan, food coloring, and silicon dioxide.


6. Robitussin Long-Acting CoughGels

Ingredients: Dextromethorphan HBr, USP 15mg, FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Red No. 40, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Gelatin, Glycerin, Mannitol, Pharmaceutical Ink, Polyethylene Glycol, Povidone, Propyl Gallate, Propylene Glycol, Purified Water, Sorbitol, Sorbitol Anhydrides.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are dextromethorphan, food coloring, gelatin, polyethylene glycol, and propylene glycol.


7. Amazon Basic Care Cherry Cough Drops

Ingredients: Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Eucalyptus Oil, FD&C Red No. 40, Glycerin, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Soybean Oil, Sucrose, Water.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are corn syrup, food coloring, natural and artificial flavors, and soybean oil.


8. Betadine Antiseptic Sore Throat Medicated Gargle

Ingredients: Povidone-Iodine (0.5% Available Iodine) (0.5 %), Citric Acid, Flavor, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Purified Water, Saccharin Sodium, Sodium Hydroxide.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are povidone-iodine, citric acid, flavor, and propylene glycol.


9. Little Remedies Sore Throat Pops

Ingredients: Pectin 5.4mg, Caramel Color, Corn Syrup, Honey, Natural Flavor, Sucrose, Water.


My Overall Rating: 3/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are corn syrup and natural flavor.


10. Children's Tylenol Pain + Fever

Ingredients: Acetaminophen 160 mg, Anhydrous Citric Acid, FD&C Red No. 40, Flavors, Glycerin, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Microcrystalline Cellulose and Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium, Purified Water, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbitol Solution, Sucralose, Xanthan Gum.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients. The biggest red flags are acetaminophen, food coloring, high fructose corn syrup, carboxymethylcellulose sodium, and sodium benzoate.



Toxic Ingredients Found In Cough Medicine

  • Acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, is a pain killer that has been linked to an increased risk of health problems when used in larger doses or long-term. Some risks of acetaminophen include damaging the liver and kidneys, depleting levels of glutathione, cardiometabolic risk, linked to cancer, affecting emotional processing, may have neurodevelopment consequences during pregnancy, linked to Steven’s-Johnson Syndrome and asthma, and endocrine disruption. Learn more regarding The Truth About Acetaminophen here.

  • Ascorbic Acid is a synthetic vitamin C usually derived from GMO corn. According to North Coast Organic, plenty of evidence shows that consuming ascorbic acid, especially in high doses, should be avoided (2).

  • Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium is an active ingredient in common eye lubricants but is used as a thickening agent in cough syrups. Carboxymethylcellulose sodium, also known as cellulose gum, is indigestible. Your stomach and intestines will not be able to break it down and absorb it. An article was written in 2015 that showed that consuming emulsifiers like this one can impact the gut microbiota, promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. The same goes for croscarmellose sodium; it is also an emulsifier that affects gut microbiota (3).

  • Citric Acid naturally occurs in oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits and is perfectly safe. Citric acid is also naturally-sourced from Aspergillus niger-black mold (4). Health problems associated with this type of mold include respiratory infections, allergic reactions, and inflamed lungs (5).

  • Corn Syrup is 100 percent glucose and should be avoided by people with diabetes or prediabetes (6).

  • Food Coloring has been linked to neurological disorders like ADHD, cancer, allergies, learning disabilities, irritability, and aggressiveness (7). To learn more about the risks associated with consuming food coloring, check out my article, The Truth About Food Coloring, here.

  • Gelatin is a protein sourced by boiling animal skin, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and or bones in water and is usually obtained from cows, pigs or fish (8). Gelatin consumption can cause symptoms of upset stomach, burping, bloating, and allergic reaction. Some experts worry that gelatin has a risk of being contaminated with certain animal diseases, and how they aren't sure if it's safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women or children (9).

  • Guaifenesin is an expectorant used to help loosen congestion in your chest and throat. Guaifenesin also has a long list of side effects like diarrhea, dizziness, headache, hives, nausea or vomiting, skin rash, stomach pain, and upset stomach (10).

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup is sweeter than sugar, and the body much more quickly absorbs it. Fructose is a type of simple sugar that makes up 50% of table sugar (sucrose). Overeating high fructose corn syrup can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure (11).

  • Polyethylene Glycol is an active ingredient in laxatives like MiraLAX. Polyethylene Glycol has a long list of side effects, including bloating, gas, upset stomach, dizziness, increased sweating, abdominal distension and pain, borborygmi, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal cramping, perianal inflammation and soreness, allergic reaction, severe or bloody diarrhea, rectal bleeding, blood in your stool, and painful or worsening stomach pains (12).

  • Povidone-Iodine is typically applied topically to decrease risk of infection (13). Surprisingly, ingestion of this ingredient can result in stomach upset, thyroid dysfunction, and burns of the gastrointestinal tract. In severe cases, heart and kidney failure may occur (14).

  • Sodium Benzoate is a synthetically-manufactured preservative added to some sodas, packaged foods, and personal care products to prolong shelf life (15). This ingredient is used to extend the shelf life of cough syrup and was also reported to alter sperm quality and function in a 2018 study (16). A significant concern over the use of sodium benzoate is its ability to convert to benzene, a known carcinogen when exposed to vitamin C (17).


To learn more regarding The Truth About Greenwashing and a longer list of toxins that may be found in greenwashed products, click here.


Natural Cough Relief Recommendations

  • ADANIM Eucalyptus Thyme & Mullein Leaf Tea is a unique medicinal tea blend that makes a massive difference in the lungs and helps improve respiratory functions. Next time you feel congested from a cold and are coughing into the night, don't wait to see a doctor in the morning. Prepare a fresh hot cup of our organic thyme and eucalyptus herbal tea! Loading with rich anti-oxidants that can help a congested chest, this herbal blend is especially potent at helping your breathing and relaxing when you are under the weather.

  • Earthley's Anti-Inflammatory was created for the common inflammation that can flare up from low immunity or an illness. This herbal extract helps to calm the body, reduce inflammation, and provide immune support. It can even help improve your mood!

  • Earthley's Cough-B-Gone is a liquid supplement that combines elderberries and other immune-supporting herbs for everyday wellness. It’s an elderberry tincture (not syrup) that’s a potent cold and flu fighter, shelf-stable for up to 2 years, and super concentrated, which makes it the most cost-effective option.

  • Earthley's Elderberry DIY Kit (Cough and Cold) makes it easier than ever! No need to overbuy herbs or spend time researching for the best recipe. Simply boil in water and add honey, syrup, or a sweetener of your choice.

  • Earthley's Herbal Throat Spray provides relief from sore throats without compromising ingredients. This spray is infused with anti-viral herbs and has a pleasant, sweet flavor. Banish sore throats naturally with cooling peppermint while your immune system gets the support it needs.

  • Earthley's Immune-Aid Vitamin C Powder/Capsules is a 100% real food supplement. Organic berries and orange peel provide natural vitamin C to boost your immune system. This powder makes the perfect nutrient-rich addition to your daily routine or when ill.

  • Earthley's Pain Potion is an herbal tincture that helps to bring relief from headaches and other body pains. We combine five herbs to extract their anti-inflammatory, cooling, and soothing properties to help relax muscles and ease pain. Skip the OTC pills and their dangerous side effects and opt for the natural help that Pain Potion can provide.

What are your go-to natural cough relief products?


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