The hidden calories in tablets

You've read the title and think the topic is a little bit silly. Who really cares about the calories in their medication? A surprising number of people on the internet apparently. But it was random interest, rather than hyper-concerned netizens, that had me researching the topic.

The calorie content of medicines interests clinicians who put treatment resistant epileptic patients on ketogenic diets where carbohydrate intake is carefully controlled. “The carbohydrate content of tablets … can be difficult to manage for physicians, nurses and pharmacists” states one journal article.

The calories in medicines come primarily from excipients. Starch and lactose in tablets, alcohol and sugar in solutions and gelatine in capsules all contain calories.

In one study, researchers in Canada asked manufacturers for calorie information relating to 790 different medicines. The data they collected is for Canadian brands, but it’s fair to assume the figures are also typical of UK medicines.

As you probably thought, the calorie content of tablets is tiny. For example, a 500mg paracetamol tablet contains the grand total of 0.3 calories. A sugar-coated 400mg ibuprofen tabletcontains 0.5 calories.

Don’t be misled into thinking paracetamol is therefore the drug of choice for the weight-conscious, pain-relief seeking patient. At maximum daily doses the calorie content ofparacetamol is higher at 2.4 calories versus 1.5 calories for ibuprofen.

At a positively waist-bulging 5.9 calories per capsule is calcium 500mg as Capsan. Thankfully, it’s not available in the UK.

Of course I’m not being serious. The numbers are negligible. If you do get a concerned patient, perhaps a little too fanatical about their New Year’s resolution, encourage them to laugh their concerns off. They could burn up to 40 calories, or 133 paracetamol tablets.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, The hidden calories in tablets;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.69295

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