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Chiropractic Research Review

Cough Medicine Ingredient Linked to Birth Defects

Dextromethorphan is a widely used ingredient in many nonprescription cough medicines. A study of chicken embryos found that dextromethorphan caused serious birth defects and fetal deaths in concentrations relative to those typically taken by humans.



Fertilized chicken eggs were treated with a minuscule quantity of a saline solution, different amounts of dextrome-thorphan, or left untreated. Spontaneous developmental defects occurred at a rate of less than one percent in the untreated embryos and in 1.5% in embryos treated with the saline solution. However, the defect rate in the group treated with dextromethorphan rose to 27.7%. In larger quantities, dextromethorphan treatment resulted in the death of 56.7% of the tested embryos, while in even the smallest dose, treatment resulted in the death of 14.1% of the embryos.

Results demonstrate that exposure of chicken embryos to dextromethorphan contributes to the development of birth defects (particularly craniofacial and spinal lesions) and increases the incidence of death. These results are significant in light of the fact that the clinical use of dextromethorphan (for a wide variety of conditions) seems to be increasing.

Andaloro V, Monaghan DT, Rosenquist TH. Dextromethorphan and other n-methyl-d-aspartate receptor antagonists are teratogenic in the avian embryo model. Pediatric Research, Jan. 1998;43(1), pp1-7.

Chiropractic Research Review

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