What are gelatin capsules made of?

Written by caroline howard
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What are gelatin capsules made of?
(Paul Tearle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Gelatin is an ingredient used to make capsules for prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and nutritional supplements. People with allergies or dietary restrictions need to know what they are made of for their health or well-being.

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Identification

The National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplements page defines a capsule as a gelatin shell containing a dose of medicine, a vitamin, or other dietary supplement. It is usually oval, coloured, and semi-clear. All prescription drugs are identified and reported using a unique, three-segment number, called the National Drug Code (NDC).

Significance

Vegetarians and vegans do not eat meat; vegans do not consume any dairy. Observant Jews follow the laws of "kashrut" or "keeping kosher", which requires them to separate meat and dairy.

For these categories of people and others, it is important to know exactly what they are consuming in their medication.

What are gelatin capsules made of?
A glass of milk, which is dairy. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Kyle May)

Types

The International Vegetarian Union FAQ says that gelatin is made from the boiled bones, skins, and tendons of animals. An alternative substance is called Agar, which is derived from seaweed. Another is made from the root of the Kuzu plant.

What are gelatin capsules made of?
A pig with a number tag in its ear. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Chris Watson)

Prevention/Solution

Those wishing to avoid gelatin should avoid both hard and soft capsules in favour of traditional pills. They can look for the ingredient rennet, which is generally considered vegetarian, according to the International Vegetarian Union.

What are gelatin capsules made of?
Three pills showing their National Drug Code. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Beatrice Murch)

Fun facts

<p>OUKosher.org says that while kosher gelatin exists, gelatin made from beef skins or bones is not kosher. Likewise, Halalgelatine.com specifies that gelatin or gelatin from pigs is not Halal, and gelatin from beef may not be, so it should be avoided.

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