Updated: 5 days ago
Every life matters, may that be human or animal; we should not have to sacrifice either. It is no surprise that we use animal ingredients in medicines, but as a result there are many people who refuse to take life-saving medications. I decided to investigate this some more to understand people’s opinions about animal ingredients in medications. I’ve created an online survey which is still open, but I have analyzed the first 111 responses below. I really need more responses, please click here to take it. (Thank you if you participated!)
As seen from the graph, 3.6% of the responders refused to take an animal-derived drug that would be considered crucial for survival, such as an EpiPen for fatal allergic reactions. I really hoped the answer would be zero; nobody should be in a situation where they cannot take a life-saving medication because the manufacturers decided to use animal-derived ingredients. Interestingly, 20.7% of the responders elected to not take an important cholesterol-lowering drug, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) simply because it had animal-derived ingredients. In another survey of 500 participants, 43.2% of them elected to not take a product with animal ingredients without alternates available(1). This can easily turn into a very serious health care issue.
It is important to appreciate that statins are ranked number 1 out of the “Big Six Heart Medications,” according to the Cleveland Clinic(2). Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs that reduce LDL by 21-32%(3) and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by 24-37%(4). In general, for those above 65 years old, medication nonadherence is prevalent in 40-75% of people(5). Combining this high degree of nonadherence with a relatively high percent of people not willing to take medications with animal-free ingredients, it behooves the medical community and pharmaceutical companies to manufacture medications that are not of animal origin. Between our data and the other research studies, it is very evident that there is a net value for pharmaceutical companies and ingredient and supplement manufacturers for medications that are not of animal origin.
Amongst patients and health care practitioners, we need to create more awareness regarding the composition of their drugs and supplements. Together, we can solve this by:
Empowering patients to ask for animal-free medications. (By the way, only 20.5% of vegetarians are asking(4)) If you believe in this cause, add your name here.
Educate physicians that certain drugs can be made animal-free from compounding pharmacies(6)
Engaging with the pharmaceutical industry to eliminate the use of animal-derived ingredients
It is rather easy to replace animal-derived products for animal-free alternatives. For example, a common inactive ingredient, magnesium stearate, used as a lubricant in tablets and capsules, can be from a plant or animal source; it can be extracted from either vegetables, like palm oil, or animal fats. We simply need to encourage the use of a plant-based magnesium stearate and promote better labeling so that consumers know what they are buying(7).
With simple fixes, it is feasible to reinvent day-to-day medications to help individuals with dietary restrictions comfortably use these drugs.
5. Warburton H, Payne M, Payne S. The problems of gelatine and prescribing urologically specific medication to a diverse population in the UK. An initial study. British Journal of Medical and Surgical Urology. 2010;3(2):52-58. doi:10.1016/j.bjmsu.2009.10.005
The Big 6 Heart Medications. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-big-six-heart-medications/. Published 2019. Accessed September 24, 2019.
Stein D, Devaraj S, Balis D, Adams-Huet B, Jialal I. Effect of Statin Therapy on Remnant Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in Patients With Combined Hyperlipidemia. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2001;21(12):2026-2031. doi:10.1161/hq1201.100259
Stroes E. Statins and LDL‐cholesterol lowering: an overview. Curr Med Res Opin. 2005;21(sup6):S9-S16. doi:10.1185/030079905x59102
Salzman C. Medicine compliance in the elderly. J Clin Psych. 1995;56(suppl 1):18-22.
Warburton H, Payne M, Payne S. The problems of gelatine and prescribing urologically specific medication to a diverse population in the UK. An initial study. British Journal of Medical and Surgical Urology. 2010;3(2):52-58. doi:10.1016/j.bjmsu.2009.10.005
Everything You Should Know About Magnesium Stearate. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/magnesium-stearate. Published 2019. Accessed September 2, 2019.