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What Does "Enteric-Coated" Mean?

Enteric-coating of medication helps to prevent irritation of stomach lining.
Starch can be used to make enteric coating.
Enteric coating enables medications to absorb properly in the small intestine.
Enteric-coated fish oil tablets.
Aspirin are typically enteric-coated.
The pH level of the small intestine is above 7.
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  • Written By: Solomon Branch
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 01 August 2014
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Enteric-coated means a pill or other form of oral medication is layered with a protective coating. It stops the pill from dissolving in the stomach and irritating the lining, or rendering the medication ineffective. In rare instances, this coating is used to protect the stomach from possible harmful effects of a medication. It is most commonly used in aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) that are known to irritate the stomach lining, but is also often used in medications or vitamins that need to dissolve in the small intestine to be absorbed properly.

The stomach lining has a low pH level, meaning that it is very acidic and can easily break down food to begin the digestive process. If a pill is enteric-coated, it won't break down in an acidic environment but will in an alkaline environment. This means that it will dissolve in the small intestine, where the pH level is above 7. The word enteric actually means referring to the intestine.

Wax, plastics, or plant fibers, such as starch, are used to make the coating. Other materials that are used are certain types of shellac and fatty acids. Most of these are polymers that are either man-made or natural and won’t break down below levels of pH 5.5.

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The use of an enteric-coated pill was primarily prompted by the high incidence of gastric disturbance from the use of NSAIDs. It is not just a matter of pain or discomfort, and many of the NSAIDs can cause serious problems, such as ulcers. The coating can be very helpful in possibly avoiding the dangerous side effects, especially for those who take these drugs regularly. It is also used in fish oil and garlic supplements to stop the capsules from dissolving in the stomach and causing foul-tasting burps.

In addition to helping to avoid irritating the stomach lining, an enteric coating can also increase what’s known as bioavailability. This means that certain vitamins and medications are absorbed more readily in the small intestine, rather than the stomach. By using this coating, it increases the chances that the vitamin or medication will be absorbed properly.

The coating on these pills won’t work if the medication is crushed or broken. Doing this breaks the seal and exposes the contents to the stomach acid. Although it may be easier to swallow a crushed pill, it will lose its protective benefits.

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Discuss this Article

OeKc05
Post 6

I give my dog enteric-coated aspirin whenever he has sore muscles. My vet said that I could give him one aspirin, since he is over 50 pounds.

She told me to always use the enteric-coated kind, because the other kind might hurt his stomach or even cause ulcers. The aspirin seems to be working, because his stiff muscles loosen up and he can walk normally after taking one.

Eventually, I'll probably have to switch to an arthritis medicine made specifically for dogs. For now, since he only has problems every now and then, I'm sticking with enteric-coated aspirin.

DylanB
Post 5

My dad has to take the fish oil that's enteric-coated. He used to take the other kind, and he said that every time he burped, it would make him want to vomit. I've smelled fish oil before, and I understand why it would make you sick to taste it!

StarJo
Post 4

I used to take chewable vitamins, but the taste stayed with me all day. Also, I read an article in a health magazine that said that I was probably missing out on absorbing some vitamins this way.

I switched to enteric-coated vitamins, and I think I'm better off now. I have more energy, so I don't think it's just mental. Plus, I don't miss having to taste the vitamins and getting pieces of them stuck in my teeth.

seag47
Post 3

Well, this explains why my enteric-coated aspirin has still been hurting my stomach. I've been breaking the pills in half and taking just half a dose, but I didn't realize that would defeat the purpose of the coating. I suppose that if I need a small dose, I should just stick with baby aspirin.

golf07
Post 2

Has anyone else had trouble taking fish oil capsules because of burping up the taste of fish?

Even though I know they have great benefits, I had to stop taking them because I couldn't stand it any longer.

These were supplements I bought at a health food store and thought would be OK. I think I need to look in to some enteric coated fish oil and see if that might make a difference.

I am curious if these really do work as I don't want to spend my money on something only to find out they aren't any different.

SarahSon
Post 1

I had to begin using an enteric coated aspirin because I began having stomach problems.

I have struggled with headaches most of my life and rely on over the counter pain relievers when these get really bad.

When I began having some stomach issues, my doctor said if I was going to continue taking aspirin, I needed to use the enteric coated kind.

I understand the reasoning behind this as it would not irritate my stomach the way regular aspirin would.

Taking aspirin is something I try to avoid as much as I can, but if I need to get a headache under control, I am glad that I have this option.

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