Veganuary is well underway, and whether you’re going vegan just for the month of January or you’ve been a well-established vegan for some time there may be some things you’re not aware of when it comes to veganism. 

Becoming vegan is often associated with just diet, this means only eating plant-based foods, but for some vegans, this also means wearing vegan-friendly clothes and beauty products, and cutting out anything that is derived from animals, but have you considered the medication you’re taking? 

Medicine is a necessity and most of us don’t think twice about the ingredients, however, a lot of the medicines we take aren’t vegan-friendly. Depending on how far you take veganism you may be disheartened, even annoyed to find out that a lot of medicines contain animal-derived ingredients. So, does vegan medication exist or are there vegan-friendly alternatives to our most commonly used meds? 

What animal-derived ingredients are in medicines? 

vegan medication

It’s difficult to find medicines that are completely free of animal products as some ingredients are essential components of the medicine. For instance, lactose which is a sugar that comes from the milk of animals is used in many medicines as a way of binding and filling the pill, as well as delivering and releasing the drug to the intended location. Not only is lactose not suitable for vegans, but some people are also lactose intolerant which means they’re unable to digest this substance. If you’re lactose intolerant speak to your GP about medicines containing lactose, usually only small amounts are used but if your intolerance is severe any medicines containing this substance may cause problems for you. 

Gelatin is another ingredient commonly used in medicines and is derived from the bones and skin of pigs and cows. Gelatin is used to coat vitamins and in the preparation of capsules, but it can also be found in tablets, syrups, and suppositories. 

gelatin medicine

Cortisone is another widely used ingredient in medicine, but one that comes from the adrenal glands of animals. Cortisone or corticosteroids are a type of steroid used in many conditions to help reduce inflammation and suppress immune responses. They’re used for common skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, as well as asthma, hay fever, and IBS. 

Other non-vegan medicinal ingredients include: 

  • Adrenaline
  • Glycerin 
  • Hyaluronic acid 
  • Lanolin
  • Stearyl alcohol 

You’d be surprised at the sheer amount of animal-derived ingredients that are in our everyday products, including medicines. PETA has put together a long list of ingredients to look out for. 

Fortunately, a lot of these ingredients have synthetic versions. Hyaluronic acid, for example, can be found in the fluids of eyes and joints in some animals, however, there are many other ways hyaluronic acid can be made. It can be derived from plants or made synthetically and you’ll find that most hyaluronic acid products today are made in this way. Look out for the ones that state ‘100% vegan’ or ‘vegan-friendly’. 

Are there alternatives to animal-derived medicines? 

If you are vegan and your prescribed medicine contains animal products you may ask your doctor if there is an alternative. They may be able to prescribe a different formulation, a different strength, or a different class of drug, or the ingredients may be made synthetically, but this may not always be the case. Sometimes it may be necessary for your health to have a particular medicine that does contain animal-derived ingredients. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you’re going against veganism, just by switching to a vegan diet alone saves 100 plus animals per year and the environment in the process. 

Does vegan medication exist? 

vegan-friendly medicines

Technically, no medicine is vegan despite being made with vegan-friendly ingredients. This is because under UK law all medicines need to go through trials, and one of the earliest trials is testing on animals. Before all new medicines are licensed for use regulations in the UK and across the world require animal testing. The cosmetic industry is getting better at creating cruelty-free products that haven’t been tested on animals, however, this is not the same for medicine. 

As this is government law it’s not something that can currently be avoided. However, you may be able to limit harm to animals by looking for alternative medication that is somewhat ‘vegan-friendly’ in terms of its ingredients. 

Vegan medicine available to buy 

When it comes to taking medication this is a huge dilemma for vegans, do you save the health of animals or yourself? Compassion, morals, and ethics make this impossible to answer, but one thing is for sure you should never put your health at risk. Taking medication does not make you less of a vegan. In some cases, veganism may not be practical and your health must take priority. Just by practicing veganism through your diet and lifestyle does so much good for the planet and animals. 

If you are keen to try and be as vegan-friendly as possible with medicine, here is a list of some vegan medicines that are available to buy, from vegan cold and flu medicines to vegan pain relievers. 

Pain relief medicines:

  • Panadol Original
  • Panadol Extra
  • Solpadeine Max Soluble 

Cold, flu, and cough medicines: 

  • Day Nurse Liquid
  • Night Nurse Liquid 
  • Beachem Flu Plus Sachets 
  • Buttercup Original Cough Syrup 

If you’re not sure if a medicine is vegan-friendly you can check the ingredients on the patient information leaflet or you can find this information via https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/. You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist or call the manufacturer to find out more details about the medicine.