'Vegan Tylenol' and the Pain of Scientific Ignorance

By Josh Bloom — Sep 27, 2023
If it were April 1st, you'd probably treat the concept of "Vegan Tylenol" as a practical joke. But it's September, and a company is actually selling the stuff.

It's bad enough when one has to take Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain because, as I've noted in reviews here and here, with very few exceptions, there is no clinical evidence that it works at all. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that acetaminophen is "liver-unfriendly," which I've explained here. Nonetheless, the drug continues to be a moneymaker; 60 million Americans take acetaminophen weekly.

Needless to say, certain companies have taken advantage of public scientific ignorance, especially in chemistry, to portray their "acetaminophen" as superior. For example, Genexa claims that its children's acetaminophen is "clean," which, at the very least, suggests that other brands are "dirty." And actress Jessica Biel has launched the ridiculous KinderFarm (the Kinder Farmaceutical Company) brand of children's OTC medications, implying that the company's drugs, which include acetaminophen, are not only capable of dispensing human emotion but also "grown" on a farm rather than the truth – it is made in a chemical plant using crude oil as the source.

Are these products ridiculous? It's a matter of opinion. But just when you think that marketing can't get any more absurd, something truly insane like this shows up...

Axunio's "Vegan Tylenol" - crazy to the fourth power.

How can a petroleum-based, factory-produced medicine be vegan in the first place? This would seem to be an obvious contradiction:

We call crude oil and petroleum fossil fuels because they are mixtures of hydrocarbons that formed from the remains of animals and plants (diatoms) that lived millions of years ago in a marine environment before dinosaurs existed.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Phil, the Gangetic Platanista, and Mervyn, the Sea Scorpion, discuss their pharmaceutical hopes and dreams some one million years ago. Neither is considered to be a vegan life form. Images: Wikimedia Commons, Rawpixel

Setting these prehistoric considerations aside, how can Axunio Pharma claim to be vegan?

Paracetamol tablets usually contain the flow regulator magnesium stearate. This is a salt of stearic acid and magnesium – which can be of animal origin. With Paraveganio®, by axunio, consumers are guaranteed a vegan painkiller with magnesium stearate - taken from pure vegetable origin.

So it's the magnesium stearate, a powder lubricant (an additive that makes powders flow better), that makes the difference between Axunio's "Vegan Acetaminophen" and plain old stinky "regular acetaminophen." Seriously?

It's the old "origin of the chemical" trick, something that people can't seem to get past. The general public widely believes that the source of a chemical or drug makes a difference in its properties. This is why the "petrochemical-free" moniker remains so popular with companies that are trying to sell their products as "natural," knowing damn well that there is no difference whether it originally comes from a chemical refinery next to the New Jersey Turnpike or a petunia from Peoria. The same holds true here:

The industrial production of magnesium stearate.

A triglyceride (fat or oil - do you know the difference?) is a tri-ester consisting of one molecule of glycerine and three fatty acids. Triglycerides can be obtained from animal or plant sources (1). The fat/oil is hydrolyzed (also called saponification) with a base such as sodium hydroxide, which breaks all the ester bonds, giving a mixture of fatty acids (plus glycerine). The fatty acids are separated and purified by fractional distillation or crystallization, and the stearic acid is converted to its magnesium salt, aka magnesium stearate. This is what vegan magnesium stearate looks like:

And this is what magnesium stearate from animal fat looks like:

Magnesium stearate powder. Source: TKB Trading

Do you note any similarities? Well, you should because by the time the triglyceride, whether from animal or vegetable, undergoes two chemical reactions and a purification, they are the same chemical.

Let's review

Axunio Pharma, which also gives you tips on Vegan Swimming, (I s### you not)...

Do vegan swimmers pee in the pool? And if so, is it cruelty-free pee?

...wants us to believe that its "vegan acetaminophen," which is made from phenol, which comes from coal tar, which in turn comes from crude oil, is gonna save the planet because the powder lubricant additive in its pill is originally derived from a coconut instead of a cow.

That's a lot to swallow. 


(1) The most common plant source is coconut trees.

Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Recent articles by this author:
ACSH relies on donors like you. If you enjoy our work, please contribute.

Make your tax-deductible gift today!



Popular articles