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dynamicchiropractic.com >> Vitamins / Supplements

What's In That Supplement? Common Excipients and Additives

By Theresa Dale, PhD, CCN, NP

If you are recommending that your patient take supplements to create a healthier body and mind, you need to know the facts about the supplement manufacturing process and labeling codes.

Are your supplements healthy or toxic?

Unfortunately, most supplements, including those sold to health providers, contain excipients.

Excipients are used in the manufacturing process and are non-nutritive substances in nutritional products.

All tablets have them, most encapsulated supplements have them too. The list of excipients include an array of substances that are known to be associated with health issues. The substances are classified as binders, disintegrants, fillers (diluents), colorants, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, lubricants, flavors, printing inks, glidants (flow agents), coating agents, and emulsifying agents. Some mineral supplements contain heavy metals from the earth.

It's important that you know the facts about these ingredients, some of which may cause health problems, in order to choose supplements wisely.

Lets take a look at some of the worst ingredients/excipients in supplements today, what they are used for and human health concerns about ingestion.

Magnesium Stearate, Stearic Acid And Calcium Stearate

These stearates are flow agents, which are made by hydrogenating cottonseed or palm oil. They are used throughout the supplement industry as lubricants or flow agents. They are added to the raw materials in supplements so that production machinery will run at maximum speeds. These fatty substances coat every particle of the nutrients, so the particles will flow rapidly. This ensures that production schedules will meet profit targets.

Concentrated doses of stearic acid suppress the action of T-cells, a key component of the immune system, according to findings reported in "Molecular basis for the immunosuppressive action of stearic acid on T cells," which appeared in the journal Immunology in 1990.

Excessive ingestion of magnesium stearate adversely affects the normal functioning of T-cells, which are very important for the body's immune responses. High amounts of magnesium stearate act as a immunosuppressor. Thus, prolonged administering of magnesium stearate at a high dosage weakens the immune system over a period of time.

Cottonseed oil has the highest content of pesticide residues of all commercial oils; cotton crops are heavily sprayed. In the hydrogenation process, the oil is subjected to high heat and pressure in the presence of a metal catalyst for several hours, creating a hydrogenated saturated fat. Hydrogenated vegetable fats contain altered molecules derived from fatty acids that may be toxic. The metal catalyst used in the hydrogenation process may also contaminate the stearates produced (see Erasmus, Fats and Oils).

While toxicity is one problem, decreased absorption is another.

Absorption Decreased

One of the reported dangers of magnesium stearate is the decreased absorption of Vitamin B2, B3, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Zinc.

Researchers report that tablets without magnesium stearate have a 90 percent absorption rate, while those laced with magnesium stearate show a 25-30 percent absorption capacity. This is the reason why some people complain of absorption problems after taking magnesium stearate containing products. This would be very serious for a patient with any health issue, as it would be compounding the problem. A quick search on the web will turn up many manufacturers data sheet on magnesium stearate. Here is one manufacturer's data sheet on magnesium sterate: www.hummelcroton.com/msdsp/mgstear_p.html. (Ed. note: this company manufactures and distributes specialty inorganic and organic chemicals, it is not a supplement manufacturer)

Section XV. Regulatory Information

  • OSHA Status: This product is hazardous under the criteria of the Federal OSHA Hazard Communication Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200.
  • TSCA Chemical Inventory: This compound is on the EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) inventory List
  • California Proposition 65: To the best of our knowledge, this product contains no levels of listed substances, which the state of California has found to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive effects.
  • SARA 313 Title III:
    • Section 302 ExtremelyHazardous Substances: None
    • Section 311/312 Hazardous Categories: None
    • Section 313 Toxic Chemicals: None

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