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An analysis of cold medications - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

An analysis of cold medications [Dec. 26th, 2010|06:08 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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I find common cold medications rather interesting. There is of course no "cure," or even a way to shorten the duration of the illness. On the other hand, there are a variety of symptom-relief strategies with varying effectiveness. This has led to a plethora of drugs on the market; this page lists "154 widely used nonprescription cold remedies" (!) along with their ingredients.

I cleaned up the spelling and formatting errors in that list and wrote a script to make a histogram showing how many different products each ingredient occurs in, color-coded by category.


Ingredient vs. number of products.  
Click image to embiggen

Why did I do it? Simply because I could. It might also be because I get colds a lot and making this chart porn gives me a feeling of being sort of in control, which is an altogether different kind of placebo.

Here are some observations:
  • There are 6 major categories: antitussives, decongestants, antihistamines, analgestics/antipyretics, expectorants and local anesthetics.
  • There are about 40 different ingredients. The chart shows the ones that occur at least 3 times, which is 27 of them.
  • While I've listed "belladonna alkaloids" under "bogus" (yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of alternative medicine), I'm sure many others on the chart are equally ineffective. I don't know which ones. The studies are typically inconclusive.
  • Many ingredients have multiple effects (for example, most of the decongestants are also stimulants). I had to make guesses at which effect is relevant to cold symptom relief, although in most cases it is obvious.
  • There are an average of 2.5 ingredients per product (this is a separate analysis, not from the chart). Most have 1-4 ingredients but a couple have as many as 6.
The raw data is here. I can imagine doing other (equally useless) things with it, such as looking at which ingredients occur together. Finally, in case it needs saying, I'm not a doctor and am in no way qualified to give medical advice; this is just a pretty chart and nothing more.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: countrycousin
2010-12-27 06:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Pretty charts have virtue.

re (equally useless): will consider :-)

Mostly the only thing I use these days, other than patience, is a niti pot every now and then. I'm not sure it has any more virtue than washing my face periodically, but it has at least that virtue. But I do use others on occasion, and it is good to have the summary.

May I send a few others a link to this?

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-12-27 06:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Yes, feel free to send it around.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: Deadsunrise
2010-12-28 12:42 pm (UTC)
You get colds a lot? That shouldn't be assumed as "normal". Start supplementing with vitamin D and I'm sure that you won't get them as often.

I used to get lots of colds too (at least twice a year) but I haven't gotten sick in 2 years since I supplement with 5000 daily UIs. Check pubmed for "vitamin D influenza" or similar terms.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-01-03 11:18 pm (UTC)
Haha
I shall have to remember this the next time when I stand in front of a wall of cold medications at the local drug store getting confused, flustered, confounded, baffled, frustrated and perplexed. And then have my confidence slowly drained away

- Sathish J
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