Is Ibuprofen Vegan? NSAIDs Explained

Ibuprofen is a medication used to relieve pain, fever, and inflammation. Originally discovered in 1961(1), it has numerous trademark names from different companies including Nurofen, Advil, and Motrin. Ibuprofen is so established that it is even included in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines(2). However, people may wonder whether ibuprofen is vegan or not. 

The active ingredient ibuprofen is vegan however different brands may include inactive ingredients that are not considered vegan such as gelatin and shellac.

What is Ibuprofen?

is ibuprofen vegan

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Used as a general pain reliever, ibuprofen is taken for headaches, dental pain, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, and arthritis. Ibuprofen can also be taken for body aches that accompany other conditions such as the common cold or the flu.  

Ibuprofen is typically instructed to be taken orally every four to six hours(3). The dosages can vary based on the prescription of the Doctor or as needed to treat the severity of the symptoms being treated. 

Ibuprofen Inactive Ingredients

To reiterate, Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in a number of NSAIDs.

This inactive ingredients list is non-exhaustive as different companies have different formulations that feature the active ingredient, Ibuprofen:

Lactose, Stearic acid, Polysorbate 80, Gelatin, Shellac, Sodium Benzoate, Corn Starch, Sucrose, Pharmaceutical Ink, Pharmaceutical Glaze, Carnauba Wax, Caramel Color, Colloidal Silicon Dioxide, Sucralose, Medium-Chain Triglyceride, Acesulfame Potassium, Copovidone, Ferric Oxide, Hypromellose, Mannitol, Titanium Dioxide.

Lactose 

Lactose is not vegan; It is a carbohydrate found in milk, making it an animal product.

In medication, lactose is typically used as a stabilizer; They help form tablets due to their compressibility. However, not all brands of ibuprofen feature this ingredient.  

Stearic Acid 

Stearic acid is often used as an emulsifying agent, solubilizing agent, and tablet lubricant.  

Some Vegans may have reservations about Stearic Acid as the source of the ingredient may or may not be considered vegan.

While stearic acid can be obtained from vegan sources such as vegetable oil, cascarilla bark extract, and synthetically made, it can also be derived from animal oils and fats.

Polysorbate 80 

Polysorbate 80 is functionally similar to stearic acid - it is also an emulsifying agent found in many medicines, including some variants of ibuprofen.  

Specifically, polysorbate 80 is used in gelatin capsules as they help improve consistency. Improving the consistency helps deliver the drug by aiding in the dispersion of the active ingredient once the gelatin capsule has degraded. 

Just like Stearic Acid, polysorbate 80 can also be considered a gray area. While Polysorbate 80 can be synthesized from vegetable oils, it can also be derived from animal fats.

 

Gelatin 

Gelatin is used to create both hard and soft capsules. The capsules enclose the active ingredients in a dissolveable shell. Capsules are easier to create than tablets and they can also enclose liquids.  

Some vegans have reservations about the gelatin used to create pharmaceutical capsules. The capsules are traditionally made from an animal protein derived from collagen. However, plant-based alternatives such as Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (HPMC) and modified starch do exist.  

Shellac 

Another ingredient found in some brands of ibuprofen is shellac. This ingredient is similar to gelatin in that it is an ingredient used to form the medicine.  

Shellac is used as a tablet coating to help with stabalization. It is not considered vegan because it is a resin polymer derived from the secretion of female “lac bugs."

FDA Regulation 

One major deterrent for some vegans is that most of these medicines have undergone animal testing. For dietary vegans, consuming medicine is not a problem as long as the ingredients listed are vegan.  

However, there are strict ethical vegans that have additional restrictions including the use of certain animal-derived fabrics (e.g., leather, wool, fur, etc.) and products that have undergone animal testing (e.g., cosmetics, medicine, etc.).  

The FDA's justifications for why Animals are used in the testing of medications are as follows:

how much of a drug or biologic is absorbed into the blood?

how a medical product is broken down chemically in the body?

the toxicity of the product and its breakdown components (metabolites)?

how quickly the product and its metabolites are excreted from the body?

*Note, I received a page not found error when loading the source. However it still exists in archives.

However, the FDA has frameworks currently in place to reduce the need for animal testing.

It's well documented that Ibuprofen was tested on mice(4).

Liquid Pain Relievers 

In many gel or tablet based ibuprofens, the active ingredient  (e.g., ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.) is almost always vegan while the inactive ingredients are usually non-vegan - especially the inactive ingredients that play a role in delivery, stabilization, and dispersal of the drug. 

Liquid pain relievers are usually marketed towards children and the elderly who are unable to safely ingest solid medicine.

*Make note of the concentration of active ingredients in the serving sizes and follow manufacturer recommendations for adults.

Is there a Vegan Ibuprofen Brand?

There are a number of ibuprofen products that exist. Most of which aren't vegan due to the inclusion of stearic acid.

A number of other vegan resources have touted Advil "Film" Coated tablets as being Vegan. The ingredients are as follows:

Acesulfame Potassium, Caramel Color, Carnauba Wax, Colloidal Silicon Dioxide, Copovidone, Ferric Oxide, Hypromellose, Mannitol, Medium-Chain Triglycerides, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Pharmaceutical Ink, Polyethylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sucralose, Titanium Dioxide.

Sucralose is a problematic ingredient for some vegans for two reasons: it was reported to be tested on animals, and how it's processed.

Ethical vegans would not consider sucralose vegan as It was reported that 12,800 animals died during trials involving sucralose.

*Sources for this information are no longer online but can be found via Wayback Machine's Digital Archive:

The second issue has to deal with how sucralose is processed/refined. Sucralose is derived from sucrose which comes from cane sugar.

Cane sugar is commonly filtered with animal bone char (cattle). However vegan methods of filtration do exist (activated carbon and ion-exchange systems).

Based on the above, ethical vegans would still avoid Advil "Film" Tablets. Granted, they would also avoid ibuprofen in general as it was also cited to be tested on animals. However, based on the ingredients, dietary vegans would be okay with it.

Final Thoughts

Ibuprofen is a popular medication with many different formulations from different pharmaceutical companies.

Ibuprofen itself, as the active ingredient is considered vegan, while some inactive ingredients are considered non-vegan. 

References:

1. https://pubmed.gov/

2. https://www.who.int/

3. https://www.drugs.com/

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

Travis Harlan
Travis has been Vegan since 2016. Like other Vegans, he found himself regularly searching for if X product was Vegan or not. Due to the lackluster answers, Vegan Picker was born.

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Vegan Picker analyzes food and beverages to help identify problematic animal-derived ingredients.