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Fillers and excipients in Health Food Supplements

Take a close look at the ingredients on the labels of the health food supplements that you purchase. Many or actually most contain fillers or excipients.  If you see words such as maltodextrin, lactose, magnesium, starch, cellulose, methyl cellulose, silica, talc, these are just a few.  Fillers are more in the category of taking up space to save a manufacturer from filling their container with all product. Excipients have some minor purpose, though it can be debated whether they are at all necessary.

Photo credit – ShannonKringen.com via Flickr

Excipients are used for several different purposes:

  1. Lubricants aid the flow of the ingredients through the encapsulating or tablet machinery.  Some powders tend to adhere to the process machinery and flow slowly. So the choice is to either run the machinery at a slower speed or to add an extra ingredient that will lubricate and increase the flow.
  2. Binders are added to powders that are processed into tablets to help keep them from disintegrating too easily and sometimes to add to the volume of the tablet when the amount of active ingredient is tiny.
  3. Coloring agents may be used (titanium oxide) for better consumer appeal.
  4. Flavoring ingredients can help when the principle ingredients may taste either too salty, or too sweet, too bitter or too sour.
  5. Preservatives may be added  to help extend the shelf life and reduce the opportunity for oxidation of the product. The preservatives can be natural ingredients (vitamins A, C or E) or synthetic (parabens).

Seagate does not use fillers or excipients. We tend to be purists, preferring to have the filling machines run a bit more slowly rather than have an excipient added to the product.  A good example of supplement excipient use is in the Beta Glucan product category where the physical amount of Beta Glucan powder in the capsule is small (4, 10 or 20 mg), not enough to fill out a capsule. Many companies use fillers such as maltodextrin to load up the balance of space in the capsule so that it does not appear empty. However, Beta Glucan is an immune-boosting product. So the addition of sugar into the capsule may be counterproductive for people fighting fungal disorders which feed off of sugar or even for people who are diabetics who wish to limit their intake of sugar.  Seagate solves this problem by adding a second complementary ingredient into our Beta Glucan products: carrot powder for Beta 204

and shark cartilage for Beta GS           

Generally excipients are neutral, neither adding any benefits to the product nor causing any harm. However, some of these do cross the line. Maltodextrin, perhaps the most popular excipient in the supplement industry, is a starch that gets absorbed into your body as glucose (sugar). Parabens are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal but may have a link to possible disruption of your body’s hormones, and the increased risk of cancer and reproductive toxicity, though the FDA and the industry using them are currently defending their use as harmless.

The fellow in the photo below, a Blackbar Soldierfish, does not need to worry about excipients and their toxicity. However, he should worry about the survival or his reef due to changing seawater temperatures, the change in salinity of seawater and the toxins added to his environment from chemicals created by Man that end up in our oceans.

Blackbar Soldierfish

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Millie - I purchase my supplements at the local health food store, never at a drug store, grocery store, Wal Mart, etc. to ensure they are high quality.

Richard (Founder) - Hi Millie,
First of all, that is a good practice. The non-health food big box national chains really just purchase primarily based upon the lowest pricing quoted to them. Health food stores try their best to bring you the best quality products that are available. We support our health Food stores around the country. They are our wholesaler distributors.

With that said, most health food stores sell supplements that have fillers and excipients. The reason is because most supplements contain fillers and excipients.
So the point we are trying to make is — read the label and look at the ingredients list on each bottle, no matter where you are doing your shopping.
Thank you

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