There are few things worse than discovering that the foods or medications you are ingesting are not what you thought they were.

A new report in the British Medical Journal suggests that patients with specific dietary restrictions may be unwittingly ingesting medications containing unspecified animal products.

Diet restriction for a variety of reasons

Dietary preferences regarding animal products are common. For a variety of reasons, including religion, culture, economic status, environmental concern, food intolerance and allergy as well as simple personal preference, people may choose to or need to restrict their diets. The restrictions placed on food are placed on anything ingested, including prescription drugs, yet many contain animal products but are not labeled accordingly.

Drugs should be labelled like foods

Dr. Kinesh Patel and Dr. Kate Tatham have found that most medications prescribed contain animal derived products. Their report calls for improved labeling similar to the types of warnings placed on food products. This will help answer any questions a patient has and reduce the stress of not knowing whether or not their medicine conforms to their dietary standards.

Lactose and animal products commonly used

They discovered ingredients such as lactose, gelatin and magnesium stearate included in many popular prescription drugs. These ingredients are not suitable for people with dairy allergies or people with vegetarian diets. Drug manufacturers can use alternative products to produce allergen and animal-free drugs if they wanted to address the issue. “Our data suggest that it is likely that patients are unwittingly ingesting medications containing animal products with neither prescriber nor dispenser aware,” according to the report.

Until such labeling occurs, people with preferences or sensitivities need to ask their pharmacist about the ingredients of each prescription. “The ultimate solution would be to eliminate animal derived products where possible from medications,” concluded the report.

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