Additives in Supplements: What are those odd ingredients? (Pt 2)

Additives in Supplements: What are those odd ingredients? (Pt 2)

By Megan Barber, Wellness Buyer, Co-op Owner

In Part One we covered the general categories of supplement additives. This is all great general information on additives, but what in the world does an ingredient called “crospovidone” even do? Or better yet, what is it made of? And the golden ticket question – is it safe for me to consume? You may have heard of the Dirty Dozen of produce, but the following can be considered the Dirty Dozen of supplement additives. (Plus a few of the more mild additives that can be included on your supplements.) Doing some research before buying a supplement can help you understand what you are consuming and whether it could be harmful to take.

Magnesium Stearate is a common additive for supplements. It is derived from animal and hydrogenated vegetable oil sources. A quick reminder, hydrogenated vegetable oil is a vegetable oil that has added hydrogen atoms that extend shelf life and increases saturated fat content. When magnesium stearate is added to supplements, it is used to make it easier for tablets to move through machinery and not stick to each other or the machine. When consumed, it may be recognized as a toxin to the body which can lead to immune system suppression and malabsorption of nutrients in the body.

Silicon dioxide is a synthetic additive that can cause allergic reactions in those sensitive to it. It is a filler and can also be seen as a toxin by the body. Titanium dioxide is another generally synthetic additive and is currently under observation for its potential to be a carcinogen to humans. It is often responsible for the white color found in many pills.

Sodium benzoate is synthetic, and when it comes into contact with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it reacts, causing it to become benzene, which is a known carcinogen and is under investigation as a possible cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. It is damaging to cells in the body, causing them to cease functioning, but is one of the cheapest mold inhibitors and therefore widely used.

Citric acid is often synthesized from genetically modified corn, making it hard for those avoiding GMOs. It is used as a flavor enhancer as well as a filler and color additive.

Ascorbic acid is also often synthesized from genetically modified corn, but to make matters confusing, vitamin C and ascorbic acid are terms often used interchangeably. Naturally occurring vitamin C in supplements should be noted as “whole food derived” right on the label, meaning it was a naturally occurring vitamin C rather than a laboratory made version.

Capsules, gelcaps, and tablets all require different additives to manufacture.
Capsules, gelcaps, and tablets all require different additives to manufacture.

Shellac is a glaze coating sourced from the resin secreted by a female lac bug. It can be seen as a toxin by the body and may impact the immune system as well. It can also interfere with the absorption or breakdown of the capsule and tablet ingredients.

Crospovidone is added to aid in absorption of the supplement and has water attracting properties. It has unknown long term effects on the lungs and there have been allergic reactions reported.

Aspartame has been under scrutiny for decades and has a reported list of side effects about a page long. The FDA and the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have both concluded that aspartame is relatively safe in moderation as an artificial sweetener, but caution that adults only consume 50mg per kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of body weight daily. It has sweet properties 200 times that of sugar and is therefore used as a taste improving agent. Some countries are reviewing the safety of aspartame and considering banning it.

Parabens are used as preservatives, but they can actually mimic estrogen and can interrupt hormones in the human body. There are ongoing studies that link parabens to tumors in humans.

Corn Maltodextrin is typically made from GMO corn and used as a filler in capsules. It has the potential to be an allergen to those sensitive to corn products. It can occasionally be certified organically grown, but therefore costs more to use. Read the label carefully on each supplement containing this additive.

Some more natural additives include, Guar Gum, which is a fiber from the seed of the guar plant. It is a thickening, suspending, and binding agent. There is Soy Lecithin as well, which is a soy bean-derived product that has most of the allergy inducing proteins taken out, but there is a very slight chance that those sensitive to soy could still react to it. Lecithin is actually a type of fat that is essential to cells. In supplements, it aids in keeping ingredients evenly distributed within a capsule or a tablet.

This article encompasses only a very small list of added ingredients in supplements. Please take into consideration the amounts of each you are consuming, whether it is occasional or everyday consumption, and decide for yourself which ingredients, amounts, and more you are comfortable with taking. Supplements are indeed regulated by the FDA and must go through testing to make sure they are safe and effective. The FDA monitors claims made on supplement bottles, any ingredient claims of curing or preventing disease, and the use of every warning label. They also watch and monitor manufacturing facilities from raw materials used in products to finished product testing. However, not all supplements are created equal. It is important to research the company to learn their manufacturing practices and where they source their ingredients from, as well as educating yourself on the ingredients you are consuming. As always, consult a physician with any questions, concerns, and potential interactions with medications.


Sources Include:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Nutrigold Magazine 2015
Vitamin Retailer
The Complementary Association of Medicine University of Nebraska

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