A new study reveals that a majority of the frequently prescribed medication in the United States contain at least one inactive ingredient that could cause an allergic or gastrointestinal reaction in sensitive patients.
Inactive Ingredients In Medication
Inactive ingredients are added to the pill not for a direct biological or therapeutic effect, but to improve characteristics of the pill, such as the taste, shelf-life, absorption, and others. Some of these ingredients are gluten, lactose, peanut oil, and chemical dyes.
The research, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, reveals that approximately 92.8 percent of all oral medications that the team tested contained at least one of these inactive ingredients.
According to C. Giovanni Traverso, the corresponding author, this is one of the worst fears of a clinician: to prescribe medication that turns out to be harmful to patients.
The MIT gastroenterologist says that the study was inspired by real-life events when a patient with Celiac disease took a prescription pill with gluten. The team, he adds, wants to characterize the inactive ingredients present in thousands of different pills.
Traverso, along with other researchers, tested and analyzed the inactive ingredients in 42,052 oral medications that's been found containing over 354,597 inactive ingredients.
Most of these ingredients have been tested for the public safety, but there have been case studies that suggest they may still trigger reactions in people with allergies or intolerances.
Out of the thousands of pills they studied, the team found 38 inactive ingredients that could potentially cause allergic symptoms after being ingested.
An overwhelming majority of the oral medications tested, approximately 92.8 percent, contain at least one of these inactive ingredients. Specifically, 45 percent contain lactose, 33 percent contain food dye, and 0.08 percent contain peanut oil.
Traverso points out that while these ingredients are called "inactive" and the dosages may be very low, physicians often do not know each individual's threshold is. He hopes that the team's findings inspire more specific and detailed labeling of medications, so physicians and patients will be more aware of what they are taking.
"There are hundreds of different versions of pills or capsules that deliver the same medication using a different combination of inactive ingredients," Daniel Reker, author and biochemical data scientist, explains. "This highlights how convoluted the possible choices of inactive ingredients are, but also suggests that there is a largely untapped opportunity today to specifically select the most appropriate version of a medication for a patient with unusual sensitivities."