Practical considerations for vegan-friendly medicines

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Many of us will need to take medicines at some point in our lives. But, because ingredients are sometimes derived from animal products or have undergone animal testing, it can create a challenge to our vegan way of life.

Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals. [1]

The emphasis here is on “as far as is possible and practicable”. Sometimes, it is not possible to ensure that your medicine is entirely vegan, largely because of non-vegan ingredients called excipients, or active ingredients that have been derived from, or tested on, animals. It is also worth pointing out that no medicines are 100% vegan friendly as they will have been tested on animals at some point. At best we can only say if they contain any animal-derived ingredients.

It is essential to have a discussion with your healthcare professional (doctor, dentist, nurse or pharmacist) about your beliefs and how feasible it is to have a vegan-friendly formulation of your medicine. It can also be dangerous for you to stop or change any of your medication without consulting with your healthcare professional.

Does the medicine contain an excipient which is derived from animals?

Excipients are inactive ingredients that are used in the formulation of medicines. They can help improve the solubility, consistency and absorption of the active pharmaceutical ingredients and can improve the overall appearance of the medicine. [2]

Unfortunately, the majority of excipients are derived from animals. A 2013 report of the 100 most prescribed drugs found that “74 contained one or more of lactose, gelatine, or magnesium stearate [3]

The following is a list of common excipients derived from animals: [2]





From the skin and bone of cattle and pigs

Capsules, tablets and modified release preparations of some medicines. May be used to thicken liquids or as a coating agent for drug powder. Pregelatinised starch is a vegan-friendly alternative


Resin secreted by the female lac bug

Binding powders/medications



Dye made from crushed insects

Colouring of capsules


lactic acid

From milk

Diluent for tablets/medications


From sheepskin/wool

Used as a lubricant, for producing cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), in some lip/skin products

 Magnesium stearate/

stearic acid

May be derived from plants or bovine tallow

Used in production of some tablets/powders to aid delivery. Can be animal or plant derived

Does the medicine contain any active ingredients that are derived from animals?

There are many medicines that use active animal ingredients (e.g. insulin, low molecular weight heparins, some older preparations of hormone replacement therapy) or animals are used in the development process (e.g. vaccines which use animal cell cultures).

How can you check if your medicine is vegan?

Checking if your medicine is vegan can be a time-consuming process but should be done every time you are likely to receive a new medicine, or the brand or formulation has changed. Sometimes a previously vegan-friendly medication could be rendered unfriendly because the manufacturing process has been changed.

Your first port of call to find information on excipients is from the manufacturer’s product information (called the Summary of Product Characteristics or SPC) or the Patient Information Leaflet (found inside the medicine carton). Both can be accessed from or the manufacturer’s website.

Sometimes it is not clear if an excipient is vegan friendly from the SPC or PIL, in which case the manufacturer can be contacted directly by yourself or your healthcare professional. The contact number is usually found at the bottom of the SPC.

In some cases, the manufacturer is not always able to guarantee the source of excipients or confirm non-contamination during the manufacturing process. [3]

If you buy medicines online you should look for this symbol, so you know it’s a registered pharmacy:

Registered pharmacy logo

What can you do if your medication is not vegan?:

  • Look at as many different SPCs as possible to see if there are any brands that look to be vegan friendly.
  • Capsules are usually made from gelatine, but not always. Some manufacturers use pregelatinised starch as a vegan-friendly alternative to gelatine capsules.
  • Tablets containing sucrose are promising alternatives to lactose.
  • Other formulations (e.g. liquids, dissolvable tablets) are usually vegan but can be a lot more expensive. 
  • Speak to your healthcare professional about a ‘specials’ formulation. These are usually liquid formulations manufactured by a ‘specials’ company. Unfortunately, these are very expensive formulations, some may not be licensed, and they may not even be vegan. In the current NHS financial climate, these costly formulations may not be justifiable.

Sometimes there are no alternatives to medicines containing animal-derived ingredients. Although veganism avoids using animals “as far as is possible and practicable”, a considered decision must be made, in consultation with your healthcare professional, as to what medicines are necessary to improve your health. The Vegan Society strongly recommends that people take medication that is prescribed to them, as they believe that as activists it is important to look after your own health first and by doing so you will be a more effective advocate for animals.

By Ms Sheetal Ladva, Registered Pharmacist (General Pharmaceutical Council reg no: 2048383).

Enquiries welcome via The Vegan Society.


[1] ‘Definition of veganism’. The Vegan Society website -  Accessed on 29/9/22.

[2] ‘Excipients: What are the general considerations for vegan patients?’ Gillian Lewis. Specialist Pharmacy Service website - Accessed on 29/9/22.

[3] ‘Why can’t all drugs be vegetarian?’ Kate Tatham and Kinesh Patel. BMJ 2014;348: g401 - Accessed on 29/9/22.

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