I‘m not a vegetarian. But I appreciate the concerns that I have heard from time to time from vegetarian friends and customers about the presence of animal products in prescription drugs. I understand that those truly committed to a non-animal diet will want to avoid any form of animal product – and this includes animal products in the medicines they might be prescribed.
As a pharmacist, I want to be sure my patients know the facts about vegetarian options with respect to prescription drugs. I know that some have been lead to believe that there are NO such options, and that their only choice is to pursue more herbal-based therapy. This, in fact, is not the case. There are multitudes of ways to manage your vegetarian concerns while still using traditional prescription medication if needed.
This isn’t an “article” per se. I’m just sharing some thoughts on the subject as it was brought to my attention this week.
CAPSULES: Yes, many capsules are gelatin based, and thus are made (usually) of animal products (typically the hides and/or bones of various cattle or pigs). This is true. But sometimes the medication can be emptied out of the capsule prior to taking it, and thus avoiding that problem. Also, sometimes the same medication that is available in capsules is ALSO available as tablets (which are unlikely to have any animal source products in them). Finally, not ALL capsules are made from animal-based gelatin. Plant products can also be used. A phone call to the manufacturer should be able to clear that up.
DRUGS: Sometimes the medicine itself is derived from an animal source. For example, Premarin is an estrogen product derived from (yes…what you are about to read is true) horse urine. Specifically the urine of a pregnant horse (mare). Thus PREgnant MARe urINe = PREMARIN. But there are synthetic options for hormone replacement such as the prescription drug Cenestin.
Another concern may be thyroid hormone which comes from pigs (known as desiccated thyroid hormone, as found in Armour Thyroid). But again, there are alternatives such as Synthroid, Levoxyl or Levothroid.
OTC: Many OTC supplements also contain animal products. Calcium may be derived from oyster shells or bone meal. Omega-3 fatty acids are typically obtained from fish oils. Even Vitamin D may be gotten from lanolin. But again, there are options. Algae, corn and other plants are sources for some of these things. Check the labels. Some specialty vitamin stores may carry vegetarian lines of supplements like Deva or Puritan’s Pride.
Anyway, my point in all this is to encourage patients who want to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle to look into options for their prescription (or non-prescription) medicine, rather than writing it all off and assuming they have no choice.
Last modified: April 17, 2023