Supplement quality is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. In fact, Nature Works was founded on a commitment to quality, because I want my products to truly make a difference in the lives and health of my customers. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies out there without this same commitment. A glance at the nutrition facts on many supplement labels will show fillers, chemical preservatives, artificial colors, and other toxic ingredients. Also, studies show that many products contain only a fraction of the herb or vitamin ingredients on their labels--if any at all. This is frustrating because, by taking these supplements, you are making a conscious decision to better your overall health. So what do you need to watch for, and where do you find them on the label?
When you look at a supplement label, you'll see the dietary and nutrition facts. Underneath that, you'll see "other ingredients". This is where things like the capsule (hypercellulose or gelatin) are usually listed, as well as any fillers, binders, flow agents, preservatives, or other ingredients that were used in the manufacturing.
What are fillers? Fillers are substances that either help absorb moisture, act as flow agents to prevent powdered product from sticking to manufacturing machinery, or simply to fill the space in a capsule, reducing the amount of active ingredient contained within each serving.
The four main types of fillers that I frequently see in supplements are:
Silicon Dioxide, aka Silica: This ingredient is often used as a flow agent. Silica is found in nature as sand or quartz. To be used in supplements, it is ground into a very fine powder. Silica isn't necessarily a toxic ingredient. In fact, it's found in most table salt because it absorbs moisture and prevents clumping. Because silica can pull double duty as a flow agent to speed manufacturing process as well as a capsule filler, you'll find it often in many supplements.
Microcrystalline Cellulose: This ingredient is simply a refined wood pulp. That's right, it's sawdust. Like silica, microcrystalline cellulose is also a relatively harmless filler that is used as an anti-caking agent, an emulsifier, and a capsule-filler in supplements.
Magnesium Stearate: Magnesium stearate is not the same as the mineral magnesium that you want to ingest as a supplement. Commonly referred to by other names, such as “vegetable stearate” or “stearic acid,” This is chemical is used to take space in capsules and prevent binding in manufacturing. Of the four fillers we often talk about, this ingredient is most likely to create a negative reaction, such as stomach discomfort, skin flushing, and headaches.
Magnesium Silicate: Magnesium Silicate is another name for talc (yes, the same talc found in baby powder). It is sometimes used as an anti-caking agent in powdered or capsulated supplements. Studies have linked it to ovarian and stomach cancer as well as lung inflammation. Keep a careful eye out for this ingredient!
Some companies use these ingredients as anti-caking or flow agents to create consistency in manufacturing. In some supplements, the dosage of the active ingredients is milligrams or micrograms, which means that capsule fillers are necessary to make a product you can actually consume. Additionally, some raw materials (such as Vitamin D) are very sticky or viscous. In order to put these raw materials into powder/capsule form, they often need to be mixed with something that removes the moisture, like silica. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to know that, generally speaking, when you see more than one of these fillers on a label, it's likely that it's being used as a capsule filler and not a flow agent. When reading your labels, remember that active ingredients can be expensive, while fillers are very, very cheap. When you read a label and see several of these fillers, ask yourself a few questions, such as: 1- Is this product from a company I trust to put herbs or natural ingredients, not fillers in their products? 2- was this product very inexpensive compared to other similar products? 3- if there are 2-3 fillers in this capsule, then how much of the active ingredients or herbs are in there?
Other ingredients to avoid include:
Food dyes: Food dyes are included in many supplements- especially gummies, but they aren't always as safe as you think they are. While it's pretty well known that red food dyes can cause behavioral problems in children (and adults) who are sensitive to them, other food dyes can cause headaches, digestive upset, inflammation in the body, and some are even linked to cancer!
Soy: Unless soy is organic, you can pretty much guarantee it’s genetically modified, and the majority of customers I've worked with have a sensitivity or allergy to Soy in any form. Even small amounts of soy can cause an increase in estrogen levels in the body, causing headaches, migraines, cancer growth, inflammation, and all manner of digestive issues.
Preservatives: I've seen sodium benzoate, sorbic acid, dicalcium phosphate, proylene glycol, and propylparabens on supplement labels. These artificial ingredients have been linked to a myriad of symptoms ranging from headaches to palpitations, allergies and even cancer.
Artificial sweeteners: Asulfame potassum, asulfame-K, sucralose, saccharin, and asprtame are all common ingredients in gummies and liquid supplements. These artificial sweeteners have been strongly linked to cancer, digestive issues, Multiple Sclerosis, and other nervous system problems. We suggest finding a supplement that is sweetened with xylitol, stevia, erythritol or even sugar instead.
So, what are you waiting for-- go check out the products in your medicine chest, and see what's in your supplements. If you are feel like you need a replacement for some of your supplements and want a recommendation, or if you'd like to chat with me about our company's commitment to quality, give my office a call to schedule an appointment!