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Take Action on Additives in Medicines

Four of the six colourings voluntarily withdrawn from food and drink products because of links to hyperactivity are found in children's medicines.

As a mum of four kids I am very much behind the recent Action on Additives call to ban E-numbers from children's medicines. Parents really do have enough to think about when it comes to their child's welfare and nutrition without having to be fearful of commonly used medicines aimed at children such as Calpol Paracetemol and Anbesol Teething Gel. Of course I would say try not to darken the door of a pharmacy in any case and simply turn to simple kitchen cupboard remedies for common ailments but for those parents who want to offer a well-established children's medicine they surely ought to have the reassurance that they don't contain colourings linked to hyperactivity.

According to the report, Revealed: The Hidden Additives in Children Medicines, released by the charity, Action on Additives, these are seven additives with proven links to hyperactivity, demonstrated in a scientific study carried out by Southampton University and commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2007. They found that 52 children's medicines contain at least one and sometimes two or three of the so called "Southampton Seven Additives", six E-number food colourings and a preservative, sodium benzoate.

We're all very used to checking the ingredients on the food we buy, keeping a keen eye out for e-numbers and GMO etc. and thankfully food manufacturers have removed most of the colourings from hundreds of snacks, sweets and other products, after the FSA called for a voluntary ban in 2008.

It seems bizarre then that the same rules (or guidelines) don't apply to medicines. Four of the six colourings voluntarily withdrawn from food and drink products because of links to hyperactivity are found in children's medicines. They are Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122) and Ponceau 4R (E124). At least one of these colourings is found in 19 children's medicines. Three of the colourings - E110, E122 and E124, are being investigated by EFSA for genotoxicity. One or more is used in 15 medicines.

Six medicines containing these colourings are marketed as suitable for babies and can be bought over the counter. They include Calpol Paracetamol Infant Suspension (two months to six years), Boots Paracetamol Oral Suspension (three months plus) and Anbesol Teething Gel (teething babies).

The preservative Sodium Benzoate (E211) was in 37 children's medicines, including a Boots cough syrup, Tixylix, and six different Benylin cough mixtures or syrups. Four medicines contained both a colouring and the preservative.

Of course Medicines are subject to different regulations from food and drink. Synthetic colourings are banned from food and drinks targeted specifically at children under 36 months under the 'Weaning Directive' (European Commission Directive 2006/125/EC) because children's developing physiology places them in a special risk group in relation to the ingestion of additives. Yet, even medicines for babies as young as two months, such as Calpol, contains colourings which are withdrawn from baby food.

The charity Action on Additives believes that the same protection offered to young children by the Food Standards Agency should also apply to medicines and I wholeheartedly agree, and in fact not just for children's medicines, I say carry it through to ALL medicines. When I was prescribed a Vitamin D3 supplement a while back, the Pharmacist asked if I'd like tutti fruity or lemon flavour? Alarm bells rang and I asked to see the ingredient list. In addition to the fact that they contained only around 200ie of vitamin D (not really enough to make a significant difference) they also contained artificial sweeteners, flavourings and I'd guess - these colourings which are banned in food. Fortunately I knew about an oral spray offering 3000ie of Vitamin D3 and happily raised my levels using that.

Action on Additives say : "We are concerned that some of our most trusted children's medicines contain unnecessary colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders," says Lizzie Vann-Thrasher, Co-coordinator of Action on Additives. "Manufacturers of children's medicines should follow the example of the food and drinks industry and remove these colourings from children's medicines."

To alert parents to the research, Action on Additives have published A Parent's Guide to Additives in Children's Medicines, now available at: