Vegetarians who avoid eating animal products could be unwittingly consuming hidden gelatin in medicines, a study has warned.
Researchers from Manchester Royal Infirmary and the South-West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust questioned 500 people and focused on a selected group being treated for urological symptoms.
Of the sample of 283 people, 200 said they were on a strict animal-free diet and 88% felt strongly about having vegetable-based only medicines.
However, despite 176 people out of 200 preferring to take non-animal based medicine, only one in five of them admitted to checking with the doctor or pharmacist to see if their medicine goes against their dietary requirements.
Gelatin is commonly used as coating agents in medicines and for making medication thicker. Gelatin is a substance that originates from the bones and skins in animals.
The study admitted that doctors were, “fairly ignorant" about some gelatin-based medicines and claim that patients practicing dietetic restriction do not ask what the formulation contains before commencing drug treatment, which puts them at “risk of transgressing their belief.”
Researchers claim that there needs to be tighter guidelines on labeling gelatin on medication as well as vegetarian alternatives for those who do not eat animal products.
"Substitution of gelatin with vegetable-based alternatives and clearer labelling on drug packaging are alternative strategies to help minimise the risks of inadvertently contravening a patient's dietetic beliefs when prescribing oral medication, “ the study added.
Liz O'Neill, head of communications at the Vegetarian Society, told the Press Association: "Some vegetarians will be shocked to learn about the widespread use of animal ingredients in medicines, whether as active ingredients or among these excipients - the array of binders, coatings and other elements that contribute to a finished tablet or capsule.
"This is a complex area with no overnight solutions, but the Vegetarian Society believes that everyone has a right to know what they are consuming."
It's not just gelatin that is a hidden animal product in many foods and medicines. Take a look at other animal-based products lurking in your everyday food.
What is it? Hard white fat around kidneys and loins of animals. How is it used? Suet is usually found in margarine, mincemeat, pastries, bird feed and tallow.
What is it? The protein component of egg whites. How is it used? Albumin is also found in animal blood, milk, plants, and seeds. It's commonly used to thicken or add texture to processed foods.
What are they? Small, silvery fish of herring family. How are they used? In Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad dressing, pizza topping, Greek salads.
What is it? Protein jelly from bones, cartilage, tendons, and skin of animals, Much of the commercial gelatin is a by-product of pig skin. How is it used? Gelatin can be found in marshmallows, yoghurt, frosted cereals, gelatin-containing desserts, moulded salads and some medication.
What is it? Waxy fat from sheep's wool. How is it used? Lanolin is used in most chewing gums, ointments, selected cosmetics and waterproof coatings.
What is it? Lard is rendered and clarified pork fat. Often fat from abdomens of pigs or the fat around the animal's kidneys. How is it used? Lard is mainly used in baked goods and pastries.
What is it? Pepsin is an Enzyme from pigs' stomachs. How is it used? Pepsin is combined with rennet, a coagulating enzyme obtained from a young animal's stomach, to make certain cheeses.
What is it? Calcium stearate is a mineral typically derived from cows or hogs. How is it used? Calcium stearate is commonly used in garlic salt, vanilla, meat tenderizers, salad-dressing mixes.