Beware of the many dangers of self-medication!

Santé sur le Net, l’information médicale au cœur de votre santé

Faced with the growing enthusiasm of the French for the products self-medication, review 60 million consumers investigated the possible dangers associated with their consumption. 132 products were thus examined, including medicines sold without a prescription and food supplements. And the results presented cause concern.

Not so harmless self-medication products

Taking advantage of an image of efficacy and harmlessness, often conveyed by advertising, drugs sold without a prescription and food supplements are increasingly appealing to the French. But that’s without taking into account the risks of misuse, drug interactions or adverse effects related to the use of these products.self-medication.

In this context, the review 60 million consumers investigated the dangers associated with the consumption of these productsself-medication through the analysis of 132 over-the-counter references in pharmacies or in certain stores. The results of this investigation were published in the latest special issue of 60 Million consumers entitled “Non-prescription drugs: our experts alert you”.

To carry out its investigation, the review selected 60 non-prescription drugs and 72 frequently consumed food supplements to help relieve everyday ailments, especially in winter:

  • Common cold;
  • Flu-like symptoms;
  • Pains and fever;
  • Decreased immune defenses;
  • Sore throat and cough;
  • Anxiety disorders;
  • Sleeping troubles;
  • Abdominal pain.

These 132 products were subjected to a ” rating system “ defined in collaboration with the journal Prescribe (for the study of drugs) and nutritionist Jacques Fricker (for the study of food supplements). This analysis made it possible to highlight one or more problematic elements (presence of dangerous substances, risks of side effects, interactions, excessive dosages, absence of mention indicating risks, lack of clarity in the instructions, etc.).

Read also – Afipa launches the responsible self-medication operation

90% of non-prescription drugs should be avoided

According to the criteria of 60 million consumers, a large number of over-the-counter drugs and food supplements would have an unfavorable benefit/risk balance. Thus, only 10% of the non-prescription drugs studied by the review would remain to be preferred in self-medication.

The study highlighted in particular the risks of problems of liver damage or cardiovascular problems. Many substances with significant side effects are indeed often present. Certain active substances are thus singled out, such as paracetamol, which “taken in excess (over 3 to 4 g per day for adults, depending on the case) or associated with alcohol, can harm the liver”, pseudoephedrine, “intended to alleviate symptoms of the common cold, which can sometimes lead to cardiovascular problems” or oxomemazine “used to relieve cough which may cause seizures or risk of drowsiness”.

To know ! In France, paracetamol overdose is the leading cause of drug-induced liver transplantation.

This survey also highlighted the presence of problematic excipients due to their possibly carcinogenic or endocrine disrupting effects (such as the antioxidant E320, classified as a possible carcinogen, and the excipient E218, possibly an endocrine disruptor).

Finally, the review deplores the presence of additives such as sugar, sweeteners or even salt, sometimes in large quantities and not necessarily clearly specified on the product instructions. of self-medication.

Read also – Alert on non-prescription drugs!

Only 20% of recommended dietary supplements

With regard to food supplements, after investigation, only 20% are recommended by the review, and 55% should be avoided. As with drugs, many substances used in the composition of food supplements and in appearance “trivial” may be responsible for adverse effects. An example is melatonin. Very frequently used in “sleep” food supplements, it can “ interfere with the circadian rhythm or cause nausea, dizziness and sometimes seizures”.

Moreover, certain plants present in food supplements can reduce the effect of certain medications and cause significant problems (such as irritation of the colon with rhubarb, senna, or aloe, due to their laxative effects).

Another notable drug interaction: that of grapefruit seed extracts with statins (antihypertensive drugs) and certain chemotherapy treatments.

Finally, the review warns against possible overdoses of vitamins, such as vitamin D in children already supplemented by their pediatrician. An additional intake can therefore be excessive and cause digestive disorders.

In general, the results of this survey provide an opportunity for 60 million consumers to demand regulatory changes in order to clarify the information intended for the general public. Among the claims of the journal are:

  • Clarification of the notices on the boxes of self-medication products.
  • The presence of the logos “prohibited for pregnant women” or “prohibited for children” on the packaging and instructions.
  • The explicit and legible mention of the interactions and side effects of the plants.
  • The mention of excess vitamins in the leaflets of food supplements.
  • The systematic mention in bold of essential oils in the instructions, with mention of the risks associated with their intake.

In the meantime, we can only too strongly advise consumers to get serious information by reading the instructions carefully and asking for advice from a pharmacy if necessary. Because we can never repeat it enough: self-medication does not necessarily mean safe!

Read also – Caution required for berberine-based dietary supplements

Déborah L., Doctor of Pharmacy


– Over-the-counter drugs, but not safe! 60 million consumers. Accessed October 15, 2020.
– “60 million consumers”: a study on self-medication products. The daily life of the pharmacist. Accessed October 15, 2020.


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