Focus on Active Ingredients – Not Brands

Guest blog post by Sandy Getzky, associate editor at ProveMyMeds, a public health and education startup focused on producing helpful resources concerning the treatment of common ailments. 

I work for a startup called: ProveMyMeds. And when I tell people this they usually assume we are some “Big Pharma” subsidiary tasked with proving the effectiveness of certain drugs. Not quite. We exist for the simple purpose of exposing the science of products and looking past brands and marketing. Let me explain with an example:

Which of these four sports drinks would you choose after your workout?

  1. Dihydrogen Monoxide. A research-based beverage containing ingredients scientifically proven to help your body transfer its internal healing nutrients to muscles and systems that need rebuilding.
  2. Aqua Fria. When you’re hot after a workout, Agua Fria cools you down and helps you feel better.
  3. Eau d’Vie. Working out isn’t just about building strength and endurance. It’s about a building a better life and Eau d’Vie gets you there, one sip at a time.
  4. Tap Water.

 Depending on your personality, you probably chose anything but number 4. After all, who wants to drink tap water after a workout. Then again, “dihydrogen monoxide” is a fancy way of saying H2O, and Aqua and Eau mean “water” in Spanish and French. It’s not the brand that matters, it’s the active ingredient.

 Take acne creams as another example. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you’re buying an over-the-counter product, there are only four meaningful active ingredients — benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids and sulfur. Whether you buy an inexpensive generic product, or a designer cream, it’s going to made of some combination of those four ingredients, and it’ll probably lean heavily on benzoyl peroxide.

Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, Medipren, and countless generic drugs are all exactly the same in a pharmacist’s eyes. They’re all ibuprofen, so you might as well buy whichever one is on sale. You can find the same thing in many other products, including cough syrup, nail fungus treatments, antacids, and even stretch mark removers.

 You’re probably wondering what’s going on. The drug system in the United States is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s very expensive to come up with a new ingredient — sometimes costing billions of dollars. Once a new drug gets approved, the company that makes it gets a few years to sell it exclusively while it’s under patent. After the patent expires, anyone can make a copy.

Here’s the cool thing.… The active ingredients in these copy-cat drugs, also known as generic drugs, have to be exactly the same as the original name-brand active ingredient. Otherwise, they need to go back through the time-consuming and expensive approval process.  What this means is that generics have to be as effective and as safe as the name brand product — if they’re different, they can’t be sold. This is why your pharmacist can legally and safely substitute generics for the name brand drugs your doctor prescribes, saving you and your insurance company lots of money.

Whether you want to clear up nail fungus, treat a sunburn, or fade your stretch marks, don’t worry about the brand name on the product you buy. Look at the “Drug Facts” label to find the active ingredients and their concentrations and choose the lowest priced one that has your desired quantity and drug. You’ll get the same results, and potentially save a lot of money.

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2 Responses to Focus on Active Ingredients – Not Brands

  1. I tell my friends this all the time. Its nice to see a site dedicated to giving the honest truth about brand names vs active ingredients and such. Thanks for saying what I’ve been thinking.

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