4 Surprising Ways Your Medicine May Not Be Vegan

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If you’re vegan or considering a vegan lifestyle, the obscure ways that animal derivatives are included in products don’t surprise you. From skincare to beer, there isn’t any mass-marketed product that shouldn’t be investigated. There are often hidden animal products lurking in the ingredients list. Sometimes, they’re not even that blatant, as is the case with many medicines on the market. What animal products could be within your medicine cabinet, undetected? Read on to find out. 

1. Gelatin in Capsules and Gummies

Even if the actual medicine or supplement inside of a capsule is vegan, the casing that houses it may not be. Gelatin is the most often used material for those gel capsules you see lining the shelves. Gelatin is made from animal collagen, most often derived from pigskin. The good news is that there are alternatives if you look hard enough. For example, CBDfx makes organic CBD capsules that also happen to be vegan.

Although there is a long history of gelatin used in capsules, there are innovations to be made. Plant-based gelatin and other thickening agents that do not include animal products are widely available. They just haven’t made their way into the mainstream medicine market yet. However, the options are opening up. Gummies are usually made with pork-derived gelatin, but there are products that use other forms of gelatin or pectin. Always check the label. 

2. Lactose as a Carrier and Stabilizer

If you are wary of dairy, look out for traces of lactose in your meds. It is actually quite a common filler in capsules, tablets, and other forms of pharmaceuticals. If you are lactose-intolerant, you may experience adverse reactions. However, this is rare given that the amount of lactose (aka milk sugar) in medications is usually minimal.

On the other hand, this is bad news for those that avoid dairy products due to moral standards, ethical practices, or religious beliefs. There are handy lists online that can let you know the inactive ingredients in just about any drug. If you’re unsure, check with the manufacturer. As stated previously, there are usually trace amounts, but depending on your adherence to the vegan lifestyle, it’s probably safest to check. 

3. Animal Products in Tablets and More

Now you know that capsules are made with unappetizing gelatin sourced from animal bones, skin, ligaments, and other sketchy areas. What about tablets? These are drugs that come in little, chalky pill form rather than in a slick capsule. Actually, any form of medication can contain animal ingredients. The drug companies don’t seem to discriminate. Regardless of tablet, capsule, liquid, or otherwise, always check the label for: 

  • Magnesium stearate and stearic acid
  • Gelatin (unless explicitly vegan)
  • Lanolin (fat from sheep’s wool) 
  • Lactose or lactic acid
  • Pregelatinized starch
  • Glycocholic acid (mammal bile acid)

The first ingredient listed magnesium stearate, may or may not be vegan. It contains stearic acid, which is a fatty acid in the form of a waxy solid. This can come from plants or animals, so reading the ingredient, solely, are not enough to tell whether or not it contains non-vegan ingredients. In this case, you may have to consult the manufacturer.

The other ingredients on the list are usually explicitly stated, and most of them always come from animal sources. Liquid medication is generally safer. It is more expensive, but it is less likely to contain any of the aforementioned non-vegan ingredients. However, you still have to check for animal testing. 

4. Animal Testing

There are other options for vegan medicine. Usually, if a brand is openly vegan, they will also be open about their avoidance of animal cruelty. Testing on animals isn’t necessarily akin to eating animal byproducts. However, most vegans care about the welfare of animals, whether or not that is the primary reason why they live a plant-based lifestyle. If you detest animal cruelty, it’s important to locate the manufacturer’s website and look for transparency in testing processes. If it’s vague, it’s likely they outsource their testing to another country, such as China, that tests on animals. 

The conditions for animals that are both tested on and extracted from are usually not favorable. Humans have made great strides in enhancing the ethical treatment of animals, but Big Pharma has a huge hand in the pot. Even with advancements in vegan ingredients and higher demand for vegan medicines, it may be a long time before the shelves are completely rid of animal-derived ingredients. In the meantime, check the ingredient list and make your preferences known to manufacturers. 

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