Majority of Meds Tested Contain Problematic Additives: Study

For over two decades I have been alerting clients, readers and seminar attendees that many if not most prescription and over the counter (OTC) medications in the U.S. contain some of the same additives that people are working to avoid in their food and personal care products.  My warning: those people who are particularly sensitive to certain chemical additives like sodium benzoate (commonly used in medications like cough syrup, among others), tartrazine/yellow dye 5 (found in a variety of medications, including those prescribed to people with asthma) and other food dyes may end up experiencing more harm than good from their meds.

Now, finally, there has been a study examining the amount of potentially problematic inactive ingredients in medications.  (Inactive ingredients in medications–so called because they are not among the chemicals that actively target the specific health condition being treated–are the very same additives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for processed foods.) The results of the study reveal that the majority of medications in the U.S.–a full 92.8 percent of the medications analyzed contained at least one of these inactive ingredients capable of causing an adverse reaction in some people (like lactose, peanut oil, gluten and chemical dyes).  It is important to note that future research that focuses on sodium benzoate, EDTA, nanoparticle titanium dioxide, and other chemicals of concern commonly used as inactive ingredients in prescription and OTC meds would likely bring the percentage of potentially problematic inactive ingredients in U.S. medications even higher.



Data analyzed uncovered inactive ingredients in 42,052 oral medications that contained more than 354,597 inactive ingredients:

  • Approximately 45 percent of medications contained lactose;
  • approximately 33 percent of medications contained a food dye;
  • while only 0.08 percent of medications contained peanut oil, for certain drugs — such as progesterone — there are few alternatives that do not contain this inactive ingredient.


The researchers note that inactive ingredients can cause an adverse reaction through an allergy (a histamine-related response that can trigger hives, difficulty breathing and/or anaphylaxis) or an intolerance, in which difficulty absorbing a substance can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.



For over the counter medications read the ingredients labels.  For prescription meds be sure to talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about which inactive ingredients are contained in the medications you or family members are being prescribed and request alternatives that are free of unwanted additives.


Food Hacker BOOKCOVER-CFL  For more information on chemicals of concern in your medications, personal care and home care products and food see our book.



Journal Reference: Daniel Reker, Steven M. Blum, Christoph Steiger, Kevin E. Anger, Jamie M. Sommer, John Fanikos and Giovanni Traverso. Inactive” ingredients in oral medications. Science Translational Medicine, 2019

Study: DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aau6753