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To what degree does medicine need to be kosher (not regarding pesach)? Most medicines are a random series of active ingredients with little meaning to the non medical professional - but what about "chocolate flavored" etc tablets or liquids?

I know that here in Australia there exists a kosher book for regular food, but not one for medicine. On the other hand i recall hearing that Strepsil lozenges (sore throat) that used to be kosher are not any more.

So, points of interest are:

  • flavouring
  • degree of importance (heart medicine / sleep pills / stimulants / sore throat lozenges)
  • age?
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First of all, as many major agencies point out with regards to Passover, if it's a heart medication, antidepressant, or any other medication without which there would be serious risk to one's life; take it first and ask kosher questions later. If you can get one with better ingredients kosher-wise that's great, but first and foremost make sure you're taking it.

There are different opinions and practices with regards to pills that are swallowed; if I recall correctly a major opinion is that if someone is "seriously but not life-threateningly sick", then the rabbinic prohibition against swallowing pills with non-kosher ingredients would be waived. Hence someone with bad arthritis could, for instance, take chondroitin pills even if the only available ones were made from non-kosher fish.

For someone who is just "feeling a bit something" (e.g. a small headache), there may be less room.

Similarly, there are dispensations for medicines that may not apply to vitamins that a healthy person takes for optimum health. Hence many a great rabbi requires a kosher certification on multivitamins (of which there are now several brands, fortunately, and many are easy to find at vitamin or health-food type stores).

There is another rule that with small children, increment their level of sickness by one. So a toddler with "just a headache" should be given the dispensations of a healthy adult who is now seriously knocked out; and a toddler who is "seriously sick" could allow for things otherwise reserved for "serious risk to life."


Chewables and syrups are more of an issue, as you're ingesting them like food. A common concern is glycerin in many syrups; glycerin could be from animal or plant sources. If you can't find a kosher-certified version, the Star-K has recommended diluting the syrup with several parts water, so that any non-kosher glycerin is less than 1/61 by volume of the total mix. (While we frown upon taking something you know is non-kosher and diluting it, here it's reasonably likely this glycerin was plant-derived.)

  • If its just swallowed (not a chewable), then its not considered food or eating, and one may normally swallow it even on pesach without worrying what's in it. – Ariel K Oct 3 '11 at 1:53
  • Thanks, that covers a lot. What about with things that are in the less important category - like sleeping pills (or anti jet lag pills)? Those are not in the "serious" category, but i doubt it is possible to vet their ingredients. If i am going to be flying, should i be worried about picking either of these up? – meem Oct 3 '11 at 3:40
  • @Meem, well first of all you're swallowing them; beyond that, I'd just take a look at the inactive ingredients on the package. If you don't see gelatin, I wouldn't be worried. (Okay yes stearates can be non-kosher derived sometimes, but I'd still say good enough.) – Shalom Oct 3 '11 at 13:27

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