Some Patients Can Have Problems From Inactive Ingredients In Medications: Study

A study by a group of doctors and scientists into the inactive compounds used to make medications, the results of which were published last Wednesday in the Science Translational Medicine journal, found the existence of at least one inactive ingredient in 93 per cent of the samples tested which would r\lead to adverse reactions in certain conditions, such as peanut oil, lactose or dyes.

The research was taken up by Dr. Giovanni Traverso, who is assistant professor in MIT’s department of mechanical engineering, who was also gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham Women’s Hospitalm along with a team, after one of his patients he was treating began to have negative reactions to a common medication he prescribed about five years ago. The patient was being treated for celiac disease. At that point in time, Traverso did not know that the acid suppressant that he was prescribing had an ingredient that had been derived from wheat gluten – which is perhaps that single most important thing that celiac patients are barred from eating.

“That really brought it home to me as far as how little we know about tablets and the potential adverse effects they might have,” Traverso said. “I think there’s a tremendous underappreciation of the potential impact that inactive ingredients may have.”

This was the reason that the study, analyzed 42,052 different oral medications, was started.

The study also found that there were other medications which included ingredients that people were sensitive to and included gluten and some kinds of sugar compounds.

Sugars that were well known to cause digestive problems among some patients who are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, were found to be present in more than  half of the medications.

One of the objectives of the research was to ascertain the amount of the medications was made up by inactive ingredients and hence a team to weigh each one was appointed. The team found that such ingredients made up about 75 per cent of each medication.

This was important because while a patient might not be reactive to the quantity of lactose present in just one pill, for example, he or she could become reactive to five different medications because the actual amount of lactose in all of the five combined would be much higher.

“How much is too much?” Traverso asked in a phone interview. “They may add up particularly for someone taking more pills or capsules. Someone is on 10 prescriptions as opposed to one.”

But that’s not to say inactive ingredients need to be cut out or avoided completely. “They are helpful and they are critical,” he said.

Extension of shelf-life of medicines, absorption and enhancement of taste and more is possible by the addition of the inactive ingredients. The study therefore, only aims to enhance the awareness about the potential adverse physical reactions from the inactive ingredients.

“There need to be more clinical trials and more data out there so that we can really dive deep into how many patients are affected and how we can help them,” Daniel Reker, a lead author on the study and researcher at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, said in a statement.

(Adapted from


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