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Side effects from inactive active ingredients in medication?
Medicines that we take contain many so-called inactive ingredients, which should not trigger any reactions in the body. However, experts have now found that these inactive ingredients can also cause allergic reactions or other symptoms of food intolerance in some patients.
In their current investigation, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School found that inactive ingredients in our medicines are sometimes not as inactive and can lead to allergic reactions, for example. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Science Translational Medicine".
What are inactive ingredients?
Our medicines contain many active and inactive ingredients. Active ingredients are those that offer therapeutic benefits, while inactive ingredients do not react in the body themselves and instead improve the properties of the drug, such as taste, appearance and the ability to be absorbed by the body.
71 percent of the weight of pills are made up of inactive ingredients
Scientists started looking into inactive ingredients after treating a patient with celiac disease who responded to inactive ingredients in a drug. The experts searched the medical literature for reports of patients who responded to inactive ingredients. They found several studies with patients who showed allergic reactions to inactive ingredients such as lactose. Lactose is found in many pills. However, the medical team did not find any studies examining whether certain inactive ingredients cause less extreme, but probably more common, symptoms of food intolerance (such as flatulence or abdominal pain). So they examined the data on inactive ingredients. They found that on average, active ingredients make up just over a quarter (29 percent) of the weight of an oral pill. The remaining 71 percent of the weight comes from inactive ingredients. On average, a pill contains more than eight different inactive ingredients, but in extreme cases, it can contain up to 35 inactive ingredients, the experts explain.
Pharmaceutical companies use around 1,000 inactive ingredients
Pharmaceutical companies have around 1,000 inactive ingredients to choose from when making pills. Of these ingredients, 38, such as peanut oil, lactose and some colorants, are known to be allergens. Although most of the inactive ingredients are usually tested to check for potential toxicity and have been found not to have any significant effects on most populations, the tests fail to detect certain minor side effects, the experts explain.
93 percent of the pills examined contained at least one allergen
The study found that 93 percent of the pills contain at least one of the 38 allergens and almost all of the pills contain substances that could be problematic for people with certain food intolerances, such as gluten or sugar.
Some critics question the results
However, not all experts are convinced that inactive ingredients are particularly problematic. In most cases, the amount of food protein present in the medication would not be enough to trigger an allergic reaction, critics of the current study claim. For example, the amount of protein in flu shots is not enough to trigger allergic reactions, even in people with severe egg allergies.
Gelatin can cause problems
But there is an inactive ingredient that can clearly cause problems in allergy sufferers: gelatin. Some medicines and vaccines that are administered or injected intravenously may contain large amounts of gelatin and cause allergies. Therefore, these drugs should not be used by people with gelatin allergies. (as)