Got a cold?

Last year during the cold season, we ran out of Nyquil caplets so I went to Costco and purchased our normal boatload supply for the season.  The new caplets worked, not at all.  What happened?  I read the box and instead of pseudoephedrine, which is now a controlled substance in Minnesota because it’s a main ingredient of methamphedamine, an illegal drug, they’re using some other stuff.  So like many before me, I went to the local pharmacy and stood in line to get something that had real pseudoephedrine in it; and my runny nose stopped immediately.

This week in Time magazine (October 9, 2006) I read the following:

…The most common alternative, the nasal decongestant phenylephrine, may not be as effective.

Both compounds work by constricting the blood vessels in the nose.  But, says Leslie Hendeles, a professor of pharmacy practice and pediatrics at the University of Florida, “phenylephrine doesn’t get into the bloodstream very effectively” because it is so quickly metabolized by the digestive system.  That made Hendeles and a colleague curious about why the Food and Drug Administration considered the drug effective in the first place.  They tracked down the studies on which an advisory panel had based its recommendations back in 1976 and were surprised to learn that seven of the 11 studies showed the drug was no better than a placebo at relieving nasal congestion.

Now the practice in Minnesota has become federal law, so if you don’t get the results from your old cold medicine that you used to, you can thank the FDA.