Vegans on meds not vegan

Vegans taking prescription medication are unwittingly consuming animal gelatin.

The British Medical Journal media release is below.


Vegetarians and those on restricted diets unwittingly eating animal gelatin in meds

Inadvertent prescription of gelatin-containing oral medication: Its acceptability to patients

A significant proportion of vegetarians and other patients with dietary preferences borne out of cultural/religious practices are unwittingly consuming animal gelatin in prescribed medicines, reveals research published online in Postgraduate Medical Journal.

The findings prompt the authors to call for more comprehensive labelling of drug content and for vegetarian alternatives to animal gelatin to be used in manufacture.

The active component of a medicine accounts for relatively little of the content; most is made up of “excipients,” which include binders/fillers, disintegrants, lubricants, sweeteners, and coating agents.

Gelatin is a commonly used coating agent, but is also used as a thickener in liquid and semisolid medicines, particularly in generic (non-branded) medicines.

The researchers surveyed 500 patients being treated for urinary/urological disorders in Manchester, a culturally diverse city in the north west of England.

Previous research has shown that many specialist urology drugs contain gelatin, while roughly one in four Mancunians is of non-white ethnicity.

The researchers wanted to know about the prevalence of dietary restrictions; the willingness to take medicines containing animal content; the preparedness to ask about the content of drugs; and the proportion refusing to take drugs they knew contained ingredients derived from animals.

Two hundred patients stated they were not supposed to eat animal products. Over half (283; 56.5%) were taking medicines, 75 of whom were taking a total of 87 different drugs.

Most (88%; 176) of the 200 patients following a restricted diet said they would prefer to take medicines containing only vegetable products, only one in 10 said this didn’t matter to them.

Among the 176 with a stated preference, more than half (100; just under 57%) said they would take a drug containing an animal product, if no other alternative was available. But the remainder (43%) said they would not knowingly do so.

Yet only one in five of those with a stated preference would have asked their doctor or pharmacist if the drug’s content flouted their dietary requirements/beliefs. And half of the 49 men, who had been prescribed medicines containing gelatin, were taking these drugs in contravention of their stated dietary preference.

“We already know that doctors are fairly ignorant about the issue of excipients in medication,” write the authors, who conclude that their findings pose ethical quandaries for the entire profession.

Around 10 million people were prescribed specialist urinary/urological drugs in 2009 in the UK, but this category of drugs accounts for only the 14th commonest class of prescription, they say.

“[Gelatin content] is almost certainly a much bigger issue for the 860 million non-urological preparations prescribed in the UK each year, whose excipient content is not easily identified,” they caution.

Clearer content labelling, the adoption of a vegetarian symbol as is done for foodstuffs, and changes in the manufacturing process could all help patients make informed choices as well as promoting best practice in medical care, they suggest.


4 thoughts on “Vegans on meds not vegan”

  1. It’s not about how much animal products are consumed. It’s the ethics of using animals at all. Meat is murder and all that. The threshold for whether something is vegan is zero. No animal products or byproducts whatsoever. Killing animals and eating them or grinding them up or dissecting or wearing their skins them is reprehensible. Hiding animal products in medicines is a deceptive practice and should be stopped.

  2. Tom, thank you for your imput/and your service, sometimes a thankless job. I thought the Codex Alimentaris(-which I oppose) would determine animal/vegetable. I wouldn’t CARE, but some would, and… I think, –let the Market decide. Some will WANT one or the other,–let them indulge their preference, –no harm, no foul.

  3. I’ve been retired from FDA since 1994, but even then pharmaceutical grade gelatin came from Europe. Might have to look at their specs to see what the composition is currently. As long as we’ve opened this can of worms, fatty acids used in food additives and in the manufacturing of food packaging often can be either vegetable and animal fats. No definitive labeling on these either.

  4. vegetable capsules are available, IF…they are made available. Lots of health-food stores will carry vegetarian-caps for filling with your herbal remedies, in the US. If you take a gelatin capsule, there is SO LITTLE animal in one–it might be like taking a single shred/flake of brisket the diameter of a toothpick, and an inch long, were you to over-cook it and then pick-it apart with a fork, “flaking” it. There might be 1-200 fibers per bite of meat. I think you’re STILL a vegan, even if you consume dozens of gelatin capsules a day. I wonder if any of those “gelatin” caps are from porcine sources,–from pork hooves? I don’t think so, but there again,–VERY little pork consumed. I think all gelatin caps are beef, but a manufacturer COULD make gel caps from ANY hooved animal.

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