Common Misconceptions About Non-Medicinal Ingredients Part 2

Published on December 16, 2014 by Justine Florence

Going back to the basics, supplements exist because over time, humans have found that higher doses of certain nutrients than what we normally get in our food can be beneficial. Often, eating enough of the foods that contain these nutrients is unrealistic. Putting these nutrients in a capsule or tablet in a higher dose or isolated from food allows us to get the medicinal benefits of these nutrients without putting our health at risk from overeating. However, some ingredients are clumpy, sticky or grainy, and don’t go into a capsule or tablet very well. Other ingredients are not soluble or absorbable, so they require some modifications to be of benefit to us. Finally, some nutrients are required in such small amounts (ie. micrograms) that we can barely see it, let alone fill a capsule with it. These are all reasons why non-medicinal ingredients are used: to make sure that humans can benefit from the nutrients they want more of.

Some ingredients have bad reputations, but those reputations are usually based on eating huge amounts of substances compared to what is found in our products. In addition, most of the non-medicinal ingredients used in quality nutraceuticals are present only in small percentages in each product compared to what we already consume in our diet. Quality manufacturers will use only the minimal required non-medicinal ingredients to ensure the customer is receiving a proper dose of the most active and stable medicinal ingredients. In all cases, the safety data for the non-medicinal ingredients exceeds that of the medicinal ingredients themselves. The following is a list of non-medicinal ingredients sometimes used in supplements, designed to clarify what they are, why they are used and their safety.

Here are 3 to check out for today!

Dextrin and Maltodextrin
• What is it?
o Two related specialized starch molecules that feature only glucose repeating units, although they are not really sweet.
• Why do we use them?
o Usually used as a disintegrant, which allows a powder to break up and dissolve easily in solution by preventing clumping. Also occasionally used as an additive during the drying process for spray-dried materials such as juices and liquid extracts so that they have something to bind to in powder form.
• Important facts to know
o While maltodextrin is almost always derived from corn or wheat, dextrin can also be derived from cassava/tapioca.
o Like other highly purified “derivative”-type products, maltodextrin and dextrin are generally considered to be free of allergens from the source material because it has been so purified. Celiac patients are known for their sensitivity to gluten, but routine dosing with maltodextrin or dextrin derived from wheat does not produce allergic reactions in celiac individuals. This is due to the combination of very pure material, and very low dosing found in most nutritional supplements.

Gum Arabic
• What is it?
o The hardened sap of an Acacia tree.
• Why do we use it?
o Used as an emulsifying agent to help ingredients to disperse better in water.
• Why don’t consumers like it?
o Some may think it’s synthetic.
o Gums are used in confectionary and other preserved/processed foods, so they are a familiar item associated with unhealthy food.
• Important facts to know:
o Gum Arabic, or acacia tree sap, has been used for thousands of years as a medicine, in foods and in art among other industries.

Microcrystalline cellulose or MCC
• What is it?
o A highly refined form of cellulose, the indigestible starch that makes up the cell walls of all plants and gives them structure.
• Why do we use it?
o MCC has many purposes. It can act as a bulking agent (allowing us to make capsules or tablets with very small amounts of active material), a binder (making sure several different materials blend together correctly so every dose has the same amount of each), and a flow aid (makes sticky, oily powders flow better and easier to put in a capsule) among other purposes.
• Why don’t consumers like it?
o Don’t know what it is.
o Mostly a dislike of anything “added” to a formula that isn’t medicinal.
o MCC is derived from wood pulp.
o MCC is found in many supplements, so people think they are getting too much if they take multiple products.
• Important facts to know:
o Cellulose is one of the most inert substances to the human body known.
o Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer (a repeating chain of molecules) on the planet.
o Cellulose is made up of repeating D-glucose units but is indigestible.
o MCC is the highest purity grade cellulose available. Due to the exhaustive process of production, MCC is not considered to have any allergens from the source materials, which can be varying types of wood.
o MCC has no recognized toxicity level, although over 4 grams a day can have a laxative effect.

You may also be interested in: "Common Misconceptions about Non-Medicinal ingredients Part 3"

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