Hidden Ingredients in your supplements
Unfortunately not all supplement manufacturers list their excipient ingredients. Excipients are those ingredients deemed to be ‘inactive’ i.e. fillers, binders and glues.
A good indicator of whether a supplement manufacturing company has left out these vital pieces of information are if the ingredient lists on their products are marked as ‘Active Ingredients’. This should prompt you to ask them what the ‘In-active Ingredients’ are.
So check your supplement bottles and if necessary contact the manufacturer. Ask them what else is in that particular product. Once armed with the missing ingredients you can check them and see how much of a health issue they may be.
Common inactive ingredients are:
- Binders. Materials that promote cohesion, like dextrose or polyethylene glycol.
- Lubricants. Typically fatty acids or Stearates that speed up manufacturing.
- Disintegrators. Like Cellulose or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate that break up the tablet in the body.
- Colouring and flavouring agents. Substances such as sugar, sweeteners, chlorophyll and the FD&C colors.
- Dilutents/Fillers - starch or sodium chloride (salt).
Some to watch out for:
Povidone (polyvinylpyrrolidone or PVP) - PVP is a synthetic polymer used in virtually all encapsulated nutritional supplements; considered to be a potential carcinogen.
Silicon dioxide - This transparent powder is insoluble in water. It is thought to hinder digestion and the uptake of other nutrients, and to deplete hydrochloric acid.
Corn starch - Typically from cheap GMO corn; can invoke allergic responses.
Titanium dioxide - A pro-oxidant and liver-toxic substance used for colour. Titanium dioxide is also used in paint, plastics, paper, inks, food and cosmetics.
Di-calcium phosphate - Commonly used as a tabletting aid, filler or bulking agent. Phosphates can induce the same symptoms as MSG.
Pharmaceutical glaze (shellac) - Used to coat vitamin tablets. It is insoluble in stomach acid and supplements coated with shellac are difficult for the body to break down and assimilate.
Methacrylic copolymer - Methacrylic acid, a component of the methacrylic acid copolymer, has been reported to act as a teratogen in rat embryo cultures.
Triethyl citrate - A plasticizer not meant for consumption.
Talcum powder - Talc is both a suspected carcinogen and a very common excipient. Most manufacturers use 1-2% talcum powder for optimal functioning of their machines.
Magnesium Stearate has had a lot of adverse publicity recently however I believe it is acceptable to see this in supplements. (See Appendix for more information)
Most powders and tablets will require a few excipients in production. However when you see a long list of them it is usually a reliable indicator that the supplement is of poor quality.
Magnesium Stearate is an ester made from Stearic Acid. Stearic Acid is a saturated fatty acid that is found in many naturally occurring foods and considered a normal component of diet. Magnesium Stearate makes up roughly 3% of olive and flax oil, 4% of sunflower seed oil and 34% of chocolate. It is also found in chicken, fish, eggs, dairy and most animal fats. As a long chain fatty acid it is beneficial towards maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
It has a long history of use as a lubricating agent and as an approved ingredient in supplements. Levels in food supplements range from 3 to 5 mg on average. The suggestion that the small amounts of Stearic Acid in supplements could block the absorption of nutrients through the gut is false as the gut’s surface area is too large for this to be possible. If this were true few nutrients would ever be absorbed from a standard meal as Magnesium Stearate is found naturally occurring in so many oils and fats.
In my personal opinion Magnesium Stearate is a safe, natural ingredient that is safe to use as a processing aid in food manufacture and supplements.