Food Allergens in Medication


Taking a medication has always come with some risk, as medications are usually associated with potential side effects from the active ingredients. Yet, scientists are now realizing that there may be additional risk from the inactive ingredients found within medication.

It has previously been taken for granted that these inactive ingredients were safe. For the general population, they are considered safe. But for those with allergies or intolerances, some of these inactive ingredients could pose a threat.

Why are Inactive Ingredients Used?

If we take a medication for the benefit of the active ingredient, why are there inactive ingredients added in? Manufacturers use additives for functional purposes, similar to the reasons why they use additives in food.

Some of these ingredients are used to make medications more visually appealing or taste better. For example, your child may be more open to taking cough syrup if it tastes like grape or cherry, with coloring that corresponds to the flavor.

Other types of additives are used for purposes such as improving the absorption of the active ingredient or stabilizing the compound. Most medicines contain some kind of additional ingredients along with the active components.

Studying Inactive Ingredients

There has been a lack of information on the inactive ingredients in medications because of an assumption that they are generally safe. But researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Women’s Hospital in Boston recently studied inactive ingredients to get a better idea of how they could impact health.

The senior author of the study became interested in this topic when his patient with celiac disease had a bad reaction to an acid suppressant that is generally well-tolerated. He looked into the ingredients and found that the medicine contained wheat-derived ingredients. This experience made the lead researcher realize that medications could have unknown potential adverse effects from the inactive ingredients.

The researchers aimed to gain a better understanding of potential allergies to inactive ingredients. They found that 93 percent of medications include allergens. They hope their research will create awareness and help lead to regulations that share information on the inactive ingredients in medications. There is also the hope that this awareness will lead to the creation of allergen- and intolerance-free versions of medications.

Potential Allergens in Medications

With the acid suppressant case, the medication included a wheat-derived ingredient, which could also potentially contain gluten. This kind of ingredient could pose a threat to people with celiac disease, a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance.

Medications could contain other ingredients that could trigger allergies or intolerances. For example, the addition of lactose, fructose, dyes or starch could pose a problem for people with allergies or intolerances to them. The research study found that nearly all medicines include ingredients people may be allergic to or not be able to tolerate.

Some medications also include peanut oil, although this is included on the packaging.

As it stands now, doctors and pharmacists don’t pay as much attention to how the inactive ingredients could impact someone as they do to the active ingredients. Also, manufacturers do not currently list allergens that medications contain on the packaging or label to alert people to the potential risk.

This new research is a positive step toward creating awareness and making medication safer. In the meantime, let your doctor and pharmacist know about any intolerances or allergies, and ask them to check whether any of the inactive ingredients could pose a problem.