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From poop to pregnant horse pee: The 10 most bizarre ingredients in medicines today

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By Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

 

My medication is made of what?! This is what I hear from patients when they learn what certain medications contain. You’d be surprised. From rooster parts to actual poop, here are 10 of the weirdest ingredients in prescription drugs today.

1) Gold

Gold, of course, has been used for thousands of years in jewelry, but few know that it has therapeutic properties. Today, we have the oral anti-inflammatory medication, Ridaura (auranofin), which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Likewise, an injectable gold known as gold sodium thiomalate (GST) is injected weekly or monthly into joints to treat arthritis. Fancy.

2) Saliva of a Gila monster

Ok, that’s slightly misleading. Exenatide, the active ingredient in Byetta and Bydureon, and an important medicine to control blood sugar in diabetics, is a man-made form of a protein found in the saliva of the Gila monster, a poisonous lizard native to the southwestern United States. Still weird.

3) Urine from pregnant horses

Premarin, a medication used as hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause, comes from estrogen hormones isolated from pregnant horse urine. Yep.

4) Rooster combs

Synvisc and Synvisc-One (Hylan G-F 20), injectable medications given for knee arthritis to provide pain relief for up to six months, both contain hyaluronan, which is made from chicken combs. Hyaluronan makes joint fluid more flexible and fluid, so there’s better shock absorption in the knee. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

5) Poop

“Fecal pills”, used in fecal microbiota transplantations (FMTs), are capsules containing frozen bacteria collected from the stool of donor patients. Fecal pills taken orally have been shown to be 96% effective in treating C. diff diarrhea. A truly hard pill to swallow.

6) Formaldehyde

Yes, you heard that right. Formaldehyde, the main ingredient in embalming fluid and a common substance in household cleaning products, is used in medicine. Hiprex, which contains methenamine, is making a resurgence in popularity as an effective medication for preventing recurrent urinary tract infections. And methenamine works when it’s converted in urine to formaldehyde, the same chemical we use to embalm dead bodies.

7) Fish

While not exactly gross, the contribution of marine life to medicines is worth mentioning. Lovaza, the only pharmaceutical-grade fish oil on the market, is used to lower triglycerides, a type of fat found in your blood that can increase your risk of heart disease at high enough levels. The oils in cooked masses of fish are separated from the solids—and that’s how you get Lovaza. Ok, not so bad.

8) Urine from postmenopausal women

The urine of postmenopausal women is in many follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) preparations, including Repronex and Bravelle, which are used to treat infertility. Unlike donated blood, where the donation can be traced to one donor, these medications are made with pooled urine from multiple donors, so there’s some concern over safety. That’s why Follistim, which contains synthetic FSH is a good alternative. Pools of urine.

9) Pig pancreas

Creon (pancrelipase) is made from the pancreas of pigs and is available only with a prescription. Creon is used in patients who lack full pancreatic functionality, whether because of cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, type 1 diabetes or removal of the pancreas. Oink.

10) Pig thyroid gland

Armour thyroid Armour Thyroid 60mg tablets(30 qty) comes from the dried out thyroid glands of pigs. Armour thyroid is prescribed for underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, and is less tightly regulated than Synthroid, a manufactured form of thyroid hormone.

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