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Hey Tylenol, Advil, & Motrin: We NEED Children’s Pain Killers Without HFCS and Artificial Colors and Flavors

HFCS and Artificial Ingredients in Children's Medication

HFCS and Artificial Ingredients in Children's Medication

We have our first broken bone.  Actually, it is a fracture.  My son has a crack in his elbow.

Kids get hurt.  Kids break bones.  Kids sometimes need pain killers or fever reducers.  Although, we normally stick to all natural, herbal medicines, there is a time and place for OTC drugs.  This is one of those times.

As I perused the aisle of pain killers looking for one that also reduced inflammation, I was struck how there are no alternatives to the heavily sweetened, artificial flavored drugs.  There are generic brands by the drugstores themselves, some of which are “dye-free”, but I could find none without high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors or colors.

Why do we need this crap in our medicines?  Why hasn’t an alternative been developed?

Actually, some of the generic store brands are HFCS-free.  CBS Detroit explains:

Perrigo also recently conducted extensive research with parents on infants’ and children’s OTC products that relieve pain and reduce fever. More than half of the 600 mothers surveyed indicated a preference for children’s medications that contained no high-fructose corn syrup.  In response, Perrigo will begin labeling their dye-free formulas as “high-fructose corn syrup free.”  As part of an earlier, industry-first initiative, all of Perrigo’s infant pediatric acetaminophen products will be available with “gluten free” labeling.

What about the artificial flavors and colors?  Couldn’t they just use glycerin?

There are even more ingredients to worry about than HFCS and food dyes in children’s medication.  Practically Green identified the following concerns:

1.  Parabens.  Yup — those same ones I’ve been assiduously avoiding in my kids lotion because of concerns about potential endocrine disruption?  I’ve been letting them eat the stuff. My kid’s medicine has butylparaben in it, which evidently affects the fertility of male rat offspring. I know… I know.  Parabens are “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the FDA.  According to the Chemical Encyclopedia on Healthychild.org however, parabens when ingested are “slightly toxic.” All I know is that I don’t want them in my medicine!

2. Artificial Colors.  We try to avoid those too.  I figure if warning labels about artificial colors went onto our European friend’s kids products, I’m avoiding them. As I was digging into the specifics of each color, I noted that one of the products contained Yellow #10, which isn’t ALLOWED in food, but is allowed in drugs?!  Oh, but not in Europe.  According to ColorCon,

“Currently, D&C Yellow #10 is approved for use in drugs and cosmetics but is not approved for food uses. This material is not acceptable for use in foods or drugs in Europe due to a difference in the specifications of the monosulfonated and disulfonated components of the dye.”

3.  Sodium Benzoate.  I had to do a little research to remember why this common preservative set off alarm bells, but oh yes – sodium benzoate mixed with artificial colors can lead to hyperactivity in childrenmixed with ascorbic acid there is concern about benzene formation (a known carcinogen), and a UK scientist recently noted in a lab that it affected the mitocondria of DNA.

4.  Propylene Glycol.  This compound might be the most confusing of the bunch.  The Environmental Working Group gives it a “moderate hazard” rating (4) when used in cosmetics, but doesn’t mention food.  The ether version (PGE) has been linked to increased allergies. Even the Material Safety Data Sheet says it is hazardous when ingested (assumedly in very concentrated amounts).  But what about in medicine?  It IS an additive that theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics has raised concerns about, primarily because of adverse reactions that range from eczema to lactic acidosis especially when administered in large quantities.  But the Center for the Science in the Public Interest doesn’t mention it in their food additive list, either as safe or one to avoid and they are usually all over this stuff.  Hmmmm.

And then, just for that final insult to injury, throw in some high-fructose corn syrup and lots of other sugars, including sorbitol.

It’s very frustrating, as I can find children’s pain relievers without HFCS, but then they contain artificial dyes and flavors. The same is true vice versa:  the pain relievers and fever reducers without artificial dyes and flavors contain HFCS.

Oh what to do?  Fortunately, our need for such products is very rare; however, I do wish an alternative was available.  If you know of one, please let us know.


  1. When I was a kid (70’s and 80’s) our doctor had his own cough syrup. No flavorings, no dyes. The stuff tasted horrible and it worked. When you needed it you begged for it. He was also a big believer in you cough for a reason, so you only needed cough syrup if
    1. You were coughing yourself awake
    2. You were coughing so hard you could not talk/breathe
    3. You were coughing your throat raw.

    Not coughing could lead to lung infections because you weren’t letting your body get rid of waste.

    I wonder if doctors today could prescribe medication without flavorings.

  2. Heather R. says:

    I have a solution for this problem. Works a treat for my kids, and it’s the same trick my mom used for my brother and I as kids.
    Get regular, old-fashioned aspirin, but not the high-dose stuff- just standard aspirin will do, and will be easier to cut down. Calculate the dose needed for your kiddo, and cut a tablet accordingly, using a sharp knife. Place the needed fraction of the tablet on a spoon (1/2 of one is good for kids 6 and older, 1/4 for the younger set), and then put honey over the top of it, partially filling the spoon. That’s it! Your little ones will take it with no problems, and if they’re also suffering from a cold, the honey will help to ease those symptoms, too. This is what we do for our kids, and they love it.
    Oddly, my husband and I were talking about this, last night, and I said that I was afraid to give the kids the aspirin when they have a cold or ‘flu, due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, and he made this point: Reye’s Syndrome is incredibly rare. Like, really really rare. And they’re not even entirely sure that it’s caused by aspirin useage, since it also happens all by itself. But the kicker (he pointed out) is this: who had the most to profit by the media attention on this rare syndrome? Hmm. And what actually causes the most accidental deaths and liver malfunctions, but you’ll never see the stats side-by-side? Hmmmm. Food for thought, isn’t it? We’re going to finish clearing out the medicine cabinet in the next week (because our boys can’t stand liquid kids’ meds anyway!), and your article just gave me even more inspiration to do so! Thanks for the great info!

  3. Magda Rivera says:

    I found your website as I am looking for ibuprofen w/o artificial colors or flavors. Yesterday, after picking up my son from school with a fever, I stopped in CVS and leaved empty handed. Next stop QT, and found the acetaminophen Goody’s which is in powder. Next was the pharmacy at Kroger, but could not find anything. Ended up buying an aloe-vera leaf (could not find the drink) process in the blender with some drops of lemon and clover honey for him to drink. Anyway, still looking for ibuprofen to treat his fever…

  4. My friend just told me about this all-natural brand, Similasan. Let me know what you think:

  5. Has anyone found anything yet? Similasan’s Cough & Fever Relief has potassium sorbate :/

  6. I also found a brand called Pediacare– but the ingredients aren’t awesome. Can we make one?? Kidding, kidding. I wish a manufacturer WOULD though..

  7. I do not buy any of those anymore because of the inactive ingredients I do not agree with. If mild fever, just get over with it on its own.

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