Reading the tiny print on medications will show you that along with the active components in medicines, there is almost always a list of other ingredients that most people consider to be inactive.
Manufacturers add these inactive components for a number of reasons such as making the drug more easy to absorb or to stabilize the compound, or sometimes just to enhance the way the product looks or tastes.
But new studies show that many of these ‘non-active’ additives could cause health problems for users. While additives such as fructose and lactose will do no harm to the majority of people, it nevertheless causes issues for certain people.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, USA, decided to investigate these additives in more depth.
When a doctor prescribes a drug to someone, they take careful note of the active compound and the dosage, but they are much less likely to think about the inactive ingredients. But for people who take multiple prescriptions, in particular the elderly, the intake of inactive ingredients could buildup. For instance, a patient taking 10 prescription medications each day would ingest an average of 2.8 grams of inactive ingredients daily.
To investigate the impact of these inactive ingredients, the researchers pored over previous studies on allergic reactions to inactive ingredients in medications. They also scoured a database called Pillbox, to see the full ingredients of all medicines for sale in the United States — both over-the-counter and prescription.
They found that, in most cases, more than half of each pill consists of inactive ingredients. In some cases, as much as 99 percent of the pill was found to be non-pharmaceutical. Worryingly, the scientist discovered that 93 percent of medications contain allergens, including lactose, dyes, gluten and peanut oil that some people may not be able to tolerate.
Although drugs that contain peanut oil always come with a warning on the packaging, the same is not true for any of the other ingredients. Moreover, making sense of the ingredients is challenging, and even if someone manages to spot an allergen in their pills, there is no guarantee that they will be able to find a version of the medicine that does not include the allergen.
Researchers hope that their findings will raise awareness of this issue. Globally, allergies appear to be becoming more common, making this type of research more important than ever.
In the future, the researchers believe that there is a need for new regulations requiring companies to provide detailed information on inactive ingredients. Also, it would help, if pharmaceutical companies begin producing ‘free-from’ versions of their drugs for people who have allergies and other intolerances.