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Animal-Free vs. Animal-Derived Ingredients

The vast majority of medications on the market have excipients that cannot be considered animal-free. For example, lactose is one such ingredient that can be found in several different kinds of capsules or tablets. Additionally, compounds like magnesium stearate, commonly used as a lubricant in pharmaceuticals, can be derived from either plants or animals, yet transparency regarding its source is not common practice in the pharmaceutical industry. However, there are alternatives available that can supplement these ingredients and make these medications more inclusive for patients who do not consume products with animal-derived ingredients (e.g. vegans, individuals with religious preferences, or those with Alpha-gal Syndrome).

What are common animal-derived ingredients and their animal-free alternatives?

In October 2022, a state-of-the-art review examined the demand for medications free from animal-derived ingredients. It found this demand extends beyond vegans and vegetarians, encompassing various dietary restrictions. It also showed how the 13 most commonly used animal-derived ingredients in medications has a plant-based or synthetic alternative available.

Why aren't animal-free alternatives always used?

While there are alternatives to non-animal ingredients, switching to animal-free options would also require changes in manufacturing, so many companies stick with what they know. Availability is also an issue; materials like carrageenan and alginate from seaweed, used in vegan capsules, require a lot of resources to produce, leading companies to prefer readily available options like gelatin. Sometimes, cost can also be a factor. For example, although mannitol can replace lactose, lactose is cheaper.

How can we push for more animal-free options?

While altering medication formulations might complicate manufacturing, advocating for transparency is crucial for consumers to understand what goes into their medications. Several initiatives are underway to promote ingredient transparency, including the American Medical Association's policy urging manufacturers to disclose animal-derived ingredients in health products, the ADINA Act which calls for disclosure of all 9 allergens and gluten in health products, and VeganMed's Citizen Petition filed with the FDA to clearly label ingredient sources in health products. These efforts aim to empower consumers with information about their health choices.


In conclusion, while animal-derived ingredients in medications present challenges for those with dietary restrictions or certain allergies, alternatives exist. The problem is, they're not always used because they can be more expensive or harder to get. Initiatives promoting ingredient transparency are steps toward empowering consumers.

By supporting these efforts, we can make sure everyone has access to medications that fit their lifestyle and beliefs creating a safer, kinder, and more inclusive world.

Co-authored by Cora Altomari


Disclaimer: The product and/or information provided on VeganMed is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We do not lab test the products to confirm that they are free from animal ingredients, and it is possible that the formulation and ingredients could have changed. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or product. The information provided in this post is accurate and up to date as of the date it was written. However, please note that circumstances and facts may change over time, and new information may become available that could alter the accuracy or relevance of the content. We encourage readers to verify and cross-reference any information provided here with trusted sources or consult relevant professionals for the most current and accurate updates.


Looking for certified and verified animal-free products?

Thank you for your awareness and concern for animal-derived ingredients!

As a reminder, please comment on our FDA Citizen Petition, requesting clear labeling of animal-derived ingredients in medications. Together, we can make a difference.

If you have any further questions about ingredients in your medicines and supplements, feel free to reach out to the VeganMed team!

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