‘Inactive’ ingredients may not be: 93% of drugs have allergy-triggering compounds that drug companies label harmless, study finds
- More than half of the ingredients in most drugs are ‘inactive’ meaning they are anything but the compound meant to trigger a change
- But inactive ingredients include substances like gluten, sugar and lactose
- These are compounds many people are allergic too and even trace amounts could be sickening to patients
- A new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that 93 percent of pills and capsules contain at least one allergenic substance
Supposedly innocuous, ‘inactive’ ingredients in many drugs may not be, a new study finds.
Drugs are made using certain active ingredients – those meant to act on our biology and instigate a change – as well as ‘inactive’ ones that complement the active ones to ensure better delivery.
But new Massachusetts Institute of Technology research found that most medications that come in pill or capsule form contain substances that could trigger an allergic reaction in some patients.
And when doctors prescribe a drug, they usually have no idea what version – and therefore what supposedly ‘inactive ingredients – a pharmacist will end up giving their patients.
Over half of the ingredients in a pill are considered ‘inactive’ – but 93 percent of those drugs contain at least one substance that some patients may be allergic to, a new study finds
Hospital emergency rooms see about 1.3 visits for bad reactions to a drug very year.
But new research suggests that many of those reactions might not be to the ingredient that’s supposed to be active in the body.
All ingredients, active or inactive, in a drug have to be disclosed, either on the label, the package or in the package insert.
Inactive ingredients may not be as immediately obvious as the active ingredients which must be clearly marked on, for example, a pill bottle.
And inactive ingredients are mostly things that are GRAS – generally regarded as safe – by the FDA.
Something that’s safe for the vast majority of people, however, could be pose serious risks to a small percentage of the population.
One in every 133 Americans, for example, has celiac disease that makes them gluten intolerant.
And yet, a 2013 study of the top 200 most-prescribed drugs found that the majority had some amount of gluten in them – however small – that could have sickened a person with celiac disease.
This very reaction was the inspiration for the new study.
Senior study author Dr Giovanni Traverso discovered about five years ago that one of his gastroenterology patients was having a hard time while taking the common anti-acid, omeprazole.
He discovered that his patient had celiac disease, and the medicine he’d been prescribing her contained gluten.
‘That really brought it home to me as far as how little we know about tablets and the potential adverse effects they might have,’ said Dr Traverso.
‘I think there’s a tremendous underappreciation of the potential impact that inactive ingredients may have.’
So he and his team set out to try to quantify that impact, pouring over studies that mentioned bad drug reactions.
A whopping 93 percent of medications contained ingredients that could trigger allergic reactions, including dyes, peanut oil, gluten, lactose or sugars.
And these supposedly ‘inactive’ ingredients made up more than half (55 percent) of most drugs, and as much as 99 percent of some.
With the extent of the issue clarified, the researchers hope doctors, patients pharmaceutical companies and regulators will all be encouraged to disclose ingredients more clearly and even to push for alternative formulations of drugs.
‘I think all of these really need to come together,’ Dr Traverso said.
‘Education, increased awareness, and legislation are all important.’