Are There Unnecessary Fillers in Your Supplements
ACTIVE INGREDIENTS VS. INACTIVE INGREDIENTS
When you pick up a bottle of supplements, it’s because you want all the benefits of the goodness inside.
When you look at the label, chances are you’re focused mainly on the active ingredients and, in some cases, what percentage of the RDA the product contains. What you might not notice at first glance are the inactive ingredients, which include various fillers that you didn’t know you were signing up for.
What Are Fillers In Supplements & Why Are They Used?
When you walk down an aisle of the grocery store, you notice no lack of processed foods. Some of those options are healthier than others, and some contain loads of fillers, while others have a slim ingredient list. Either way, you have choices. Supplements are exactly the same.
Fillers in supplements have a number of uses. They can be used as binders and to prevent clumping or sticking, to extend the shelf stability, and to make them easier to swallow. Some supplement makers also add dyes or flavors to enhance the appeal and appearance.
Another reason fillers are used is to bulk up supplements.
A capsule that appears completely full may contain only a small amount of the supplement. We’re visual creatures, and if you opened a bottle of capsules that were only a quarter full, you might feel a little cheated. Sometimes, the actual amount of active ingredient is small enough that fillers are there just to take up space.
Are Fillers Necessary?
Certain fillers are necessary for quality control and production.
Fillers may be necessary to stabilize ingredients so that they’re both effective and safely consumable. There are also fillers that are called flowing agents, which help supplement ingredients flow through the processing equipment. Without these, your supplements would likely cost more, and some might not be available at all.
In these cases, fillers and additives play an important role, but not all fillers are necessary. Some are there just to take up space, bulking up the supplements. Extra fillers can reduce production costs, which is why you’re more likely to find unnecessary fillers in low-cost supplements.
Are Fillers In Supplements Bad for You?
The FDA leaves it in the hands of supplement manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe for consumers.
This includes selecting from a list of thousands of approved ingredients that can be added to them. While each ingredient may be considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe), there’s a lot about each individual additive that we don’t know.
Questions we should be asking include if these fillers are safe for long-term consumption, if they’re safe for people with specific health conditions, and at what quantity is there a potential for negative side effects.
Another thing to consider is a person’s individual tolerance to fillers.
Food dyes can cause issues for many people and might be added to supplements. Another ingredient that’s commonly used in tablets and capsules is lactose. For people who are lactose intolerant or allergic, this is a major concern.
Common Fillers Used In Supplements
Once you start examining supplement labels, you’ll begin to notice a handful of added ingredients that are commonly used as fillers. Keep in mind that fillers are different from ingredients used as part of the delivery method.
For example, a supplement can be 100% pure, but there are ingredients, like gelatin or vegetable starch, used to make the capsule the supplement is in. This is unavoidable if you want a supplement with a capsule as a delivery vehicle. The huge upside to this is that you don’t have to worry about the added fillers that most pressed supplement pills contain.
Although not exclusive, this list highlights the main fillers used in supplements today.
- Cellulose: A vegan-friendly binding and bulking agent that comes from plants and is generally well tolerated.
- Gelatin: Often used in capsules and as a binding agent. Gelatin is generally well-tolerated but is derived from animals, so it’s not vegan-friendly.
- Magnesium Stearate: There are different types of magnesium, and this is different from the magnesium supplement you may be taking. There are concerns that magnesium stearate may suppress the immune system and cause digestive distress. It’s considered safe in small doses but is a filler you might want to put on your list to avoid.
- Sodium Benzoate: Used as a preservative, there is concern when it comes to combining sodium benzoate and vitamin C. When these two are mixed together, sodium benzoate turns into benzene, which is a known carcinogen. If your supplement contains sodium benzoate, take care not to consume it with any supplement containing vitamin C, and avoid fruits, vegetables, and juices that are also high in vitamin C.
- Potassium Sorbate: Used as a preservative to extend the shelf-life of supplements and medications. Some people are very sensitive to potassium sorbate and may experience nausea and digestive upset.
- Propylene Glycol: Used as a stabilizer and deemed to be GRAS by the FDA, many people are not happy to find this filler on any ingredient list. It is banned by the EU because it’s considered to be harmful in large doses. This is especially a concern for people who consume a high level of processed foods that also contain the ingredient. Powdered drink mixes, sodas, baking mixes, and seasoning blends are a few examples of places that may be hiding.
- Silicon Dioxide: This is a fancy name for a type of sand that’s used to absorb moisture and prevent caking. It’s also commonly used as a flow agent for production.
- Starches: There are multiple starches that may be used, and they are generally safe. If you have sensitivities to certain starches, then it’s important to learn more about their source.
Common Fillers Used In Supplements
When reaching for a supplement, you want the benefits and not the potential side effects of the fillers. The safest option is to look at the ‘inactive’ or ‘other’ ingredients on your supplement labels and make sure that only the bare minimum is used.
This might require changing the form of the supplement, such as choosing a gel capsule or liquid version instead of a powder capsule or pressed pill form. It also involves searching for the highest quality supplements that don’t need to use extra fillers. There are great, high-quality supplements available with minimum fillers that place as high of a value on your health as you do.