There's a very good chance that some of the medicine in your home contains an animal-derived ingredient. The most frequently included animal-based ingredients in meds, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal, are lactose (often extracted from curdled cow’s milk), gelatin (frequently sourced from cows) and magnesium stearate, which can also come from a cow and is a magnesium salt containing stearic acid. A PETA fact sheet mentions that stearic acid additionally can come from dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters, but cows remain the primary source. “Lactose, the most common ingredient we found in medications, was largely made using the lining of young cow stomachs as part of the manufacturing process,” BMJ study co-author Kinesh Patel told Discovery News. Patel is a research fellow at St. Mark’s Hospital’s Wolfson Unit for Endoscopy in the U.K.PHOTOS: Animals Rescuing Animals
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Both magnesium stearate and gelatin, along with a blood clot preventer called heparin, can come from pigs. Patel and co-author Kate Tatham told Discovery News that the top 10 common medicines most likely to contain ingredients derived from animals are: aspirin, simvastatin, paracetamol, thyroxine, omeprazole, lansoprazole, salbutamol, ramipril, amlodipine and atorvastatin. Aside from aspirin, most of these are sold under snazzier brand names, so if you are curious or concerned about animal-based ingredients, be sure to read labels carefully and research drugs via the manufacturer’s website and other provided information.PHOTOS: Animal Superpower -- The Eyes Have It
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Estrogen is sometimes sourced from female hormones derived from pregnant mares’ urine, according to PETA. Horses and other animals are not killed for drug manufacturing, though, according to Patel. He said the ingredients are “likely to be from leftovers” of butchering for other purposes. In the United States, this likely means animals found in meat markets, such as cows and pigs. But in Central Asia, for example, horse meat is considered to be acceptable.Top 10 Camera Trap Wildlife Photos
Gelatin in drugs can come from fish, the researchers share. They add that many patients are unaware that commonly prescribed drugs often contain animal ingredients. “Our data suggest that it is likely that patients are unwittingly ingesting medications containing animal products with neither prescriber nor dispenser aware,” Patel and Tatham wrote. They call for improved drug labeling, mirroring the standards advised for food.Best Ocean Animal Photos of 2013
Chitosan, a binder in some ointments, is derived from shellfish shells. It helps to bind lipids, or fats, in medicines and other products, such as hair-care items and antiperspirants. Although the level of this and other possible animal products in many medications is likely to be minimal, Patel and Tatham say doctors need to consider this when prescribing "to avoid non-adherence, which is a major healthcare concern." Adherence, in this case, means that doctors should be forthright about what’s contained in medications.PHOTOS: Animals That Use Flash to Attract
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A red pigment known as carmine or carminic acid can come from an insect called the cochineal (and the pigment is sometimes called cochineal). According to a report on Foodnet, the pharmaceutical industry uses cochineal to color pills and ointments. There are conflicting studies as to how such ingredients -- in very small amounts -- might affect human health. A study conducted by J.B. Greig of the Food Standards Agency in London found that cochineal could be linked to asthma. Patel and Tatham, however, told Discovery News: “There are no specific health concerns associated with the ingestion of any of these (animal and insect derived) ingredients.”PHOTOS: Madagascar Home to 615 Newly Discovered Species
Some ointments contain ingredients derived from egg protein. These, and other ingredients, usually can be substituted with compounds from other sources. “The medicines we investigated could largely be made without animal-derived products,” Patel said. He added that the more commonly used gelatin and magnesium stearate inclusions now have vegetarian counterparts.PHOTOS: Animals Make Art
The oil glands of sheep produce lanolin, found in many medicines and ointments. Those who are vegan or vegetarian try to avoid use of such animal products. The researchers further point out that religion, culture, economic status, environmental concerns, food intolerances and personal preferences also can influence whether a person wishes to consume an animal-derived ingredient.PHOTOS: Mink, Rats, Bats Go to Super Bowl Too
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The enzyme lipase can be derived from juvenile sheep, aka lambs. Lipase is in some medicines treating digestion problems. PETA mentions that the enzyme can come “from the stomachs and tongue glands of calves, kids and lambs.”PHOTOS: Most Amazing Animal Friendships
Shark liver oil, squalene, is in some vaccines and over-the-counter products, such as glucosamine (chondrontin). “Many of the companies are multinationals,” Patel said. Shark-based ingredients are thought to largely come from Asia, where a shark slaughterhouse was recently found in southeastern China. The organization WildLifeRisk found that the factory processes approximately 600 whale sharks and basking sharks each year.PHOTOS: Animal Olympians
Immediately after birth on many dairy farms, baby cows are separated from their mothers and housed in their own pens to protect them from getting sick. Two months later, they join the herd.
But early-life isolation may be depriving baby cows of the opportunity to reach their full potential, found a new study. Compared to calves raised in pairs, isolated calves were much slower to learn new things and had a harder time adapting to changes in their environment.
Aside from animal welfare concerns, the new findings suggest that dairy farmers have long been overlooking the brain development of their cows by depriving them of social interaction in their early weeks.
“Imagine I said that instead of sending your child to kindergarten, I could put him in the classroom one-on-one with the teacher and all the same resources,” said Daniel Weary, a professor of animal welfare and dairy science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
“But at the end of the day, if we found that individuals in this system were showing cognitive deficits in relation to other individuals, we would feel bad about that.”
For cows, he said, “it means we’re not keeping these animals in an environment that allows them to be what they can be and should be.”
Diseases spread quickly through cattle herds, and calves are particularly vulnerable, so for generations, traditional farmers have raised newborn cows in their own pens for the first six to eight weeks until they are weaned from milk.
On the research farm at the University of B.C., though, Weary and colleagues noticed that calves that had been raised alone had trouble adjusting to the group when they were finally moved over. They couldn’t navigate the big pen. They struggled to use the group feeder.
It was like “the annoying kid in the school yard who always followed you around,” Weary said. “These individually raised cows don’t seem to know how to regulate their behavior around other animals at all.”
Suspecting that these problems might be rooted in the brain and not just an example of social awkwardness, Weary and colleagues separated 18 calves from their mothers within six hours of birth. They assigned eight of the young cows to solitary pens and 10 to be kept in pairs.
Starting at about a month old, calves were trained on a simple Y-shaped maze that allowed them to choose between a white bottle at the end of one branch and a black bottle at the end of the other. All of the young cows learned quickly that the white bottle was full of delicious milk while the black one was empty.
Once the cows knew the drill, the researchers switched it up so that only the black bottle contained milk. After just a few trials, calves that had been raised with others figured out that they should now go for the full black bottle instead of the empty white one, the researchers report today in the journal PLOS ONE.
Calves raised alone, on the other hand, were still making many mistakes after eight or nine chances to learn that the reward had moved.
In another experiment, calves that had been raised with a pen-mate quickly got used to the introduction of a plastic red bin into the maze, while isolated calves never stopped sniffing, licking and pushing the strange object around.
Without a companion to make their living environments more complex, the findings suggest that calves have a much harder time getting used to change.
Modern dairy farms tend to be complex places, Weary said, full of robotic milkers and computerized feeders. Housing calves in pairs -- instead of alone or in larger groups -- could be a simple way to make cows more adaptable to evolving methods without increasing the risk of illness.
The new study reinforces evidence that calves raised alone may be more likely to act abnormally and have trouble coping, said Catherine Douglas, a cattle behaviorist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.
Those kinds of stresses could potentially lead to other negative consequences for cows and farmers, she said, making the animals harder to manage. In her work, she has also found that stressed cows kick more and are slower to let down milk.
Other recent studies have found that calves raised together are quicker to approach food and are more socially adaptable, added Marcia Endres, who studies animal behavior and welfare at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
But adopting new farming practices is not as simple as reorganizing housing pens.
“It’s like having your kids go to daycare,” Endres said. “If they’re home, they’re not exposed to other kids and they don’t get sick. But when they go to daycare, they bring home all sorts of diseases."
"You have to be aware that when you put animals together when they’re young, they might get sick more,” she said. “It takes a little different kind of management. There are always different sides of the story.”