No FDA regulations in place to alert patients when medication is derived from animals.
More physicians and pharmacists are advocating for patients to be made aware of animal byproducts contained in common medications, according to new research in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. Common medications, including widely used blood thinners and hormones, are often derived from animal byproducts and prescribed without consulting the patient about their beliefs.
“Patients deserve to know what their medications are made of, yet this information is rarely shared,” said Sara Reed, student doctor at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine and an author of the paper. “Putting the patient first means communicating with them about the medicine recommended for their care, and in some cases, prescribing an alternative option.”
Heparinoids are a class of medication primarily derived from pigs. These drugs are routinely used as a blood thinner to prevent blood clots and are given in many settings, including following surgery, a heart attack, or to prevent the further development of clots.
Also common are conjugated estrogens, which may be used to treat moderate to severe hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. They are equine-derived hormones.
“Generally, patients who are prescribed various hormone treatments may want to consult their physician regarding the contents,” said Mary Beth Babos, PharmD, professor of pharmacology at LMU, and lead author of the paper. “For example, there are no completely animal-free oral thyroid hormones on the market.”
While the U.S. does not have formal recommendations, other nations have published guidelines to address pharmaceuticals of animal origin. The United Kingdom’s first guidelines were published in 2004 and Australia’s guidelines were published in 2007 and updated again in 2019. However, guidelines from the FDA remain unavailable.
Because some patients adhere to religious doctrine that recommends avoiding certain animal byproducts, the study authors reviewed prior medical research to identify the stated positions of leadership of the major world religions. According to their findings, many religions discourage the use of products derived from animals when not required to save human life.
“In the absence of governmental guidance, we hope this research will help physicians and prescribers start the conversation with patients about whether they accept animal-derived products,” said Reed. “Ultimately, it is the patient who should determine if a medication is appropriate for their lifestyle.”
Reference: “Animal-derived medications: cultural considerations and available alternatives” by
Mary Beth Babos, Joseph D. Perry, Sara A. Reed, Sandra Bugariu, Skyler Hill-Norby, Mary Jewell Allen, Tara K. Corwell, Jade E. Funck, Kaiser F. Kabir, Katherine A. Sullivan, Amber L. Watson and K. Kelli Wethington, 8 March 2021, Journal of Osteopathic Medicine.