Most vegetarians and vegans are pretty strict when it comes to their foods and drinks, making sure that the foods that they eat are free from animal content. However, they may not be aware that the drugs they take may not be strictly vegetarian or vegan. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you should make sure that the medicines that you require meet your exacting standards.
According to a study published in the BMJ Postgraduate Medical Journal, featuring 500 people, 43.2 percent said they “would prefer not to take animal product-containing medication, even if no alternative were available.” Only 10 percent of people polled said that they would not mind taking medicines that contained any kind of animal product if an alternative was not available. The rest would prefer to take vegan or vegetarian alternatives.
Do you know if the drugs you take are vegan?
Most people simply pop their pills and liquids without giving a thought to their origins. Even if you are a vegetarian, you probably do not give much thought to your medicines. Vegans are even stricter since they even avoid dairy products. Among the commonest animal products used in various drugs are:
• Gelatin – this used in the exterior of capsules and is also used to make liquid medicines thicker.
• Carmine – this is a red color or pink that is used in many products. It usually comes from cochineal insects that are crushed for their color. It is also known as natural red 4 on the label.
• Heparin – this important blood thinner is got from the lungs of cows and the intestines of pings.
• Insulin – commonly used by diabetics, it may be got from the pancreas of hogs, though sometimes you do get synthetic insulin (and you can ask for the synthetic version).
• Glycerin – this is made from cow or pig fat but you can also get vegetarian alternatives from seaweed.
• Lanolin – found in many skin products, injectables and eye drops, this is got from the oil gland of sheep. You may be able to get lanolin derived from plant oils.
• Premarin – this is estrogen that is derived from horse urine and often advised by gynecologists. You can get synthetic versions of this product on prescription.
• Magnesium stearate – this is used as an anti-caking agent. Stearic acid is often got from cows, though it may be possible to source it from plant products like coconut oil, cocoa butter and others.
• Lactose – this is usually got from milk from mammals and it can be substituted with plant milk derivatives.
• Vaccines – almost all vaccines are derived from animal products.
Is there anything you can do about this?
You may be able to get alternatives for some of the medicines, but these will most likely be more expensive. Some of them may not be covered by insurance and you would have to check on that. The first thing to do is to check with your doctor who prescribes the drugs or injections and ask whether he can prescribe an alternative instead. If you already have a prescription and are not sure, you can ask your friendly pharmacist.
Sometimes you simply have no choice because all medicines are not created equal. The animal product may be safer or more effective. Your doctor may tell you about the possible efficacy of vegan products and whether or not he would advise them. As far as life threatening situations are concerned, you would probably prefer to be more safe than sorry. Vaccines are another story – you need vaccines to be protected against many illnesses and you cannot refuse to take them because you are vegetarian or vegan.