There has been an overwhelming increase recently in the number of people converting to a Vegan lifestyle. This is understandable, considering our current climate crisis and the various documentaries exposing the animal cruelty prevalent in many mainstream industries. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find information about the products we all consume, including medication. We are finding that an increasing number of our Vegan patients are concerned about whether their medication is derived from animals. The truth is that long ingredient lists can be confusing, but as a licensed Pharmacist I think I can shed some light on the topic.
Aren’t Animals Used in Drug Testing?
It’s true that animals were used during the course of drug development for most medication on the market. However, we have to remember that Veganism is about reducing harm to animals as far as is practical. The truth is that not using most established medication due to animal testing is just not an option for most. This still however leaves us the choice to not use medication derived from animal products if there is an alternative available. Unfortunately, in some cases even this option might not be available yet and I would not advise anyone to compromise their health, always remember to follow your doctor’s advice!
How Do I find Out if my Medication is Vegan?
There’s only one way to find out if the ingredients of your medication are sourced from animals and this is to look over the ingredients. So, what exactly are we looking for?
Firstly, let’s have a look at what the form of medication is.
Are my Capsules Vegan?
Capsules are often not a good start. Most capsules are produced from gelatin. It’s usually made from the boiling of collagen extracted from the bones, skin, and the connective tissues of animals such as cattle, pigs, and chickens. Sounds disgusting and it is, you should assume any product with gelatin is not Vegan. There are Vegan alternatives to gelatin, usually containing agar and marketed as “Vegan gelatin”, but make sure this is explicitly stated on the packaging
Are my Tablets Vegan?
Tablets can contain a wide variety of ingredients depending on the formulation, the active drug often makes up only a small percentage of the volume of a tablet. This is because most drug doses are very small and would be hard to accurately dose and package.
The first thing you should look out for is Lactose. It is often used as a bulking agent in medication and is derived from milk for the most part. You should assume all lactose containing tablets are non-Vegan unless explicitly stated.
Magnesium Stearate is another excipient often found in medication. This one is a bit controversial, as this has been derived from stearic acid, which is of animal origin. I myself, have not come across any animal derived magnesium stareate and the norm in the pharmaceutical industry is to produce this without the use of any animal products. My advice is that it is fairly safe to assume magnesium stearate is Vegan if you find it in your tablets. If you want to be 100% certain, you can always contact the manufacturer using the contact details in the patient information leaflet contained in medication box.
Other ingredients like Pregelatinsed Starch (among other forms of Starch), Calcium Carbonate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, and Povidone are other bulking excipients you might come across in tablets. Tablets can contain sweeteners such as Sucrose, Mannitol, Sucralose, Acesulfame K and They are all usually derived from non-animal sources. Calcium Carbonate has been derived from shells in the past, but is now usually Vegan. 
Is my Liquid Medication Vegan?
Luckily, liquid pharmaceutical medicines are rarely derived from animal products. They usually contain sucrose (or other sweeteners if sugar free), alcohol, and other preservatives. If you find any ingredients you are unsure about you can always check on medicines.org.uk.
Is my Cream Vegan?
Unfortunately, there is a variety of ingredients that can be derived from animals in creams, and the ingredient lists can get very confusing even to me!
Look out specifically for Lanolin (E913), it’s present in many lip balms and creams and is produced using sheep’s wool. Lactic Acid is a common ingredient that is usually sourced from animal products. Urea can also be sourced from animals but is usually synthesised in a lab. You can always find the PIL of your creams on Medicines.org, and contact the manufacturer directly using the details at the bottom of the leaflet to be certain.
Is the Drug I take Vegan?
Ignoring the fact that most medication is tested on animals, some of the actual active ingredients in medication can also be derived from animals. Some examples of this are:
Creon: Porcine Pancreatic enzymes are derived from pork. Unfortunately, there is no alternative for the time being, but there are some products in development.
Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3): Most sources are derived from Lanolin (from sheeps wool) and it is not Vegan. There are alternative formulations of D3 derived from plant sources (Lichen) so look for these as an alternative.
Insulin: Bovine insulin was widely used but has increasingly been replaced by more reliable products made using recombinant DNA technology.
Where do I Check if my Medication is Vegan?
Whenever you purchase a medication or receive it from your local Pharmacy, it should contain a patient information leaflet (PIL). On the bottom of this there will be a list outlining all the ingredients contained in the medication. If you spot an ingredient you are unsure about, or want to double check on a specific one, you can contact the manufacturer to ask. This is the only way to be 100% certain.
List of Common Medication Ingredients
We have put together a handy list that breaks down some common drug ingredients and if they are vegan or not.
- Types of metallic soaps and ingredients | Wiley Online Library
- What is calcium carbonate? | Industrial Mineral Association North America
- Urea Production and Manufacturing Process | ICIS