Clinicians have warned that Jewish  patients are “in the dark” after research showed doctors are inadvertently prescribing drugs that contain ingredients derived from pigs and other animals.

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“Reading the list of ingredients will not make it clear whether the product meets the patient’s dietary preferences.”

A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked at 100 of the most commonly prescribed drugs. Animal products – including gelatine, lactose and magnesium stearate – were found in 73 of them, but often were not listed as being of animal origin.

“Reading the list of ingredients will not make it clear whether the product meets the patient’s dietary preferences,” say authors Kate Tatham and Kinesh Patel.

This is because there is no requirement for drugs companies to declare how inactive ingredients are sourced at the time of licensing, so patient information leaflets and product summaries often do not specify origins.

Over half the manufacturers of drugs with animal-derived lactose did not list the species from which its lactose was sourced. Similarly, a third of the drugs containing magnesium stearate, which can come from pigs and which was found in 49 of the 100, gave no information on origins.

“What grabbed me about the study was that doctors and patients don’t have ready-access to the information they need,” said Dr Marc Wittenberg, clinical fellow to the deputy medical director at NHS England. “When you go to the pharmacy you get what you’re given,” he said.

“If people knew what was in these drugs and were given a choice, I wonder whether they’d choose differently.” The researchers, whose study also has implications for vegetarians and vegans, say people may need more information about what is in their drugs.

“Adherence to religious doctrine can be dogmatic,” say the authors. “Doctors need to consider this when prescribing.”