Updated: May 30
The trend for a plant-based diet has risen by 600% in the US(1). 1 While it is easy to find plant-based (vegan or vegetarian) food, when it comes to drugs, people often compromise. I performed my own investigation based on a list from U.S. News & World Report in collaboration with Pharmacy Times of the top Over-The-Counter (OTC) health products recommended by pharmacists in 2019(2). For now, I picked 5 popular categories and analyzed every ingredient as having a:
Plant or synthetic origin
Unknown origin (unable to determine if plant or animal derived)
To identify the source of the inactive ingredients in the products, I used dailymed.nlm.nih.gov, an official provider of FDA label information. Then, I utilized multiple sources such as the Handbook of Pharmaceutical Excipients 6th ed.(3), and online references such as doublecheckvegan.com(4), and veganpeace.com(5). Since some of these online references are not entirely validated, I also did some searching using my own pharmacy knowledge to determine the manufacturing process for each ingredient. While we cannot be entirely sure, this list is as complete and accurate as we can get without speaking directly with the manufacturers (which is not very easy) or performing lab testing (available via VeganMed).
The findings were very interesting! Out of the 12 products I evaluated, 6 contained at least 1 animal derived ingredient. The remaining 6 were unknown, as the manufacturers do not necessarily disclose if they used a plant or animal derived ingredient. The table below describes the product and exact drug code, along with the ingredients so you can check for yourself!
Source: All pictures are taken from DailyMed.(6)
At least 50% of the products I looked at had ingredients from an animal source. However, they don’t have to, as alternatives for those inactive ingredients already exist. In an analysis from the United Kingdom, nearly 60% of the most commonly prescribed products contained lactose(7). Another analysis from the UK suggested that gathering information about the origins of ingredients in medications needs much improvement. Many health care providers and patients are unknowingly prescribing and consuming animal derived ingredients. The lack of labeling and access to the manufacturing process for these drugs are unclear and challenging to find. The article stated how the European Union manufacturers are banned from describing this data, since diet is considered a “lifestyle choice”(7). Having only the excipients listed, but not the origin of the ingredients, makes it more difficult for patients to fit it into their dietary preferences.
While finding vegan food is easy, changing your diet is quite hard! On the flip side, finding animal-free medicines is quite hard, but asking for it is easy! Except for a few rare exceptions, the medicine should work just the same and we wouldn’t even taste the change. For anyone that cares about animal welfare or climate change, simply asking for the use of an animal-free ingredient will make the industry and world better!
Oberst L. Why the Global Rise in Vegan and Plant-Based Eating Isn't A Fad (600% Increase in U.S. Vegans Other Astounding Stats). Food Revolution Network. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/. Published January 18, 2018. Accessed September 2, 2019.
Pharmacists' Picks: Top Recommended Health Products. U.S. News & World Report. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/pharmacists-picks-top-recommended-health-products. Accessed September 2, 2019.
Sheskey PJ, Quinn ME. Handbook of Pharmaceutical Excipients. 6th ed. (Rowe RC, ed.). London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2009.
Vegan Ingredient Checker. Double Check Vegan. https://doublecheckvegan.com/. Accessed September 1, 2019.
Ingredients. Vegan Peace. http://www.veganpeace.com/ingredients/ingredients.htm Sodium Hydroxide. Accessed September 1, 2019.
DailyMed. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/. Accessed September 1, 2019.
Tatham KC, Patel KP. Suitability of common drugs for patients who avoid animal products. BMJ. 2014;348(Feb 4). doi:10.1136/bmj.g401.
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