The Big Business with the Human Cold

SWR, 2016, 45 minutes

They are every pharmacy’s top-selling items: cold remedies, cough syrups, immune fortifiers, or combination preparations against all the cold symptoms, at one go. Over the counter, often imbued with the aura of “natural” or “herbal” therapy, ready and waiting on the shelf behind the sales counter.

Germans spend more than six billion euros annually for over the counter drugs alone. Cold remedies make up a quarter of these sales, and nearly the same sum is spent in pharmacies on nutritional supplements, bought without a prescription. And these sales continue to increase. These preparations have one main attribute in common: They are, at best, simply ineffective; at worst, actually harmful.

For our film, we asked a variety of experts to examine the top-selling over the counter cold drugs. Their assessment is shocking: expensive medication that demonstrably cannot achieve the effects claimed on their labels. Filming with a hidden camera, we test the consultation in pharmacies. The fortifying effect on the immune system, attributed to vitamin cures, we test in a university clinic laboratory; and learn via brain scan how easily we allow ourselves to be fooled regarding the effectiveness of medicines. We offer a look behind the scenes of an industry that makes big money with false health promises, placebo effects, and deceptive advertising.