NyQuil Ingredients: Is the Cold Medication Unhealthy?

NyQuil Ingredients: Is the Cold Medication Unhealthy?

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Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to cold and flu medication.

NyQuil is one of the most popular over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu treatments. It’s sold under the Vicks brand, and comes in a variety of formulations and flavors. 

But does NyQuil contain ingredients shown in research studies to reduce symptoms of cold and flu? Does it contain any questionable additive ingredients? Is the Relief Liquid or LiquiCaps formulation healthier? And are there natural options for treating cold and flu?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze the ingredients in NyQuil Relief Liquid and NyQuil LiquiCaps based on medical studies to give our take on whether the products are likely to relieve symptoms of cold and flu, and whether they contain any questionable additives.

We'll share our opinion on which of the two products has a healthier formulation, and discuss a natural cold and flu symptom relief option.

NyQuil Relief Liquid Ingredient Analysis

NyQuil Relief Liquid active ingredients list

The ingredients in NyQuil Relief Liquid are shown above. The three active ingredients are acetaminophen, chlorpheniramine maleate and dextromethorphan hbr.

Acetaminophen is a well-studied analgesic (pain relief) ingredient. This is also the main active ingredient in Tylenol, as we discussed in our recent review of how long does it take Tylenol to work.

A 2018 clinical trial compared the effects of this ingredient to a placebo for postoperative pain. The group taking acetaminophen experienced significant pain relief, with 38% fewer patients in the acetaminophen group reporting their pain as moderate-to-severe than in the placebo group.

Chlorpheniramine maleate is an antihistamine. This class of drugs is typically used in allergy medication, because they reduce runny nose and sneezing, which are also common symptoms of a cold or flu.

Not only is this ingredient an effective symptom reliever for the reasons described above, but research shows it’s also an effective antiviral. The linked research study, published in the Frontiers in Microbiology journal, found that chlorpheniramine maleate inhibited a number of viruses.

Dextromethorphan hbr is FDA-approved for use as a cough suppressant.

NyQuil Relief Liquid has research-backed active ingredients, and we believe this product is likely to reduce cough, reduce runny nose and sneezing and relieve pain.

However, it also contains some additive ingredients that may be questionable from a health perspective, as shown in the inactive ingredient list below:

NyQuil Relief Liquid inactive ingredients list

High fructose corn syrup, acesulfame potassium and saccharin sodium are sweeteners.

A 2009 medical review suggests that high fructose corn syrup may increase the risk of obesity.

Acesulfame potassium is associated with both negative changes to gut function and negative changes to brain function in some clinical trials, as we documented in our Prime drink review of another commercial product containing this sweetener.

FD&C Red No. 40 is an artificial food dye shown in a 2012 medical review to be contaminated with carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) in some instances, and the study authors suggested that all artificial food dyes should be removed from the food supply due to safety concerns.

Citric acid is a flavor enhancer and preservative shown in a 2012 medical review published in the Toxicology Reports journal to cause whole-body inflammatory reactions in some individuals.

NyQuil Relief Liquid contains effective active ingredients and a host of questionable inactive ingredients. But is the LiquiCaps formulation better? We'll discuss in the next section.

NyQuil LiquiCaps Ingredient Analysis

NyQuil LiquiCaps active ingredients

The active ingredients in NyQuil LiquiCaps are shown above.

Two of the active ingredients in this product (acetaminophen and dextromethorphan hbr) were reviewed in the previous section, where we provided clinical evidence suggesting they are both effective.

Doxylamine succinate is unique to this formulation, and is an antihistamine. A 1995 clinical trial found that this drug reduced symptoms of runny nose and sneezing.

NyQuil LiquiCaps has research-backed active ingredients, and we believe this product is likely to reduce cough, reduce runny nose and sneezing and relieve pain.

Its inactive ingredient profile is also slightly different than NyQuil's liquid formulation, as shown below:

NyQuil LiquiCaps inactive ingredients

D&C Yellow No.10 and FD&C Blue No. 1 are both artificial colorants, and we discussed the potential health risks of artificial dye in the previous section.

Titanium dioxide is banned in the European Union (E.U.) for use as a food additive due to toxicity concerns. The researchers quoted in the above-linked press release stated that they could not establish any safe intake level of this ingredient.

This product contains no artificial sweeteners and no citric acid, and for that reason, we consider NyQuil LiquiCaps to have a slightly healthier formulation than NyQuil Relief Liquid.

Our Natural Cold Relief Pick

Our top pick for natural cold medicine is Maty's Organic Cough Syrup.

This syrup is sweetened with organic honey, which has been shown in medical research to have antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Clove is another natural ingredient in this formulation, and may have the capacity to treat respiratory ailments according to a medical review published in the Molecules journal.

Zinc is a mineral included in Maty's cough syrup, and has been shown in a meta-study to reduce the duration of cold symptoms in adults by over two full days.

Most importantly, this product is free of artificial flavors, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners and citric acid.

Interested consumers can check out Maty's Organic Cough Syrup at this link to the product's official Amazon listing.

We're not suggesting that Maty's Organic Cough Syrup is likely to be as effective as NyQuil or that it should be used to treat any health condition. It doesn't contain active drug ingredients. We're simply proposing it as a an alternative that consumers who prefer natural products may wish to speak to their doctor about.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews


NyQuil contains many effective ingredients for cold and flu symptom reduction, as would be expected from a major consumer products brand using FDA-approved active ingredients.

We believe that both NyQuil Relief Liquid and NyQuil LiquiCaps are likely to be effective for reducing runny nose, cough and pain.

Both products contain some inactive ingredients that may be questionable from a health perspective, such as artificial colors.

We consider NyQuil LiquiCaps to be a slightly healthier formulation than NyQuil Relief Liquid, because of the lack of artificial sweeteners and citric acid.

There are natural cold and flu medicines available on the market, though these may be less effective than NyQuil from a symptom relief standpoint.

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