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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 for today! (Find previous entries on ingredient safety here and here.)

Hypromellose (HPMC)
• What is it?
o A modified form of cellulose.
See the discussion on microcrystalline cellulose for more information on cellulose.
• Why do we use it?
o Most often as the shell of vegetarian capsules, occasionally used in the coating of ingredients (similar to sucrose).
o Because the purpose of cellulose is to give structure, and cellulose is consumed in abundance already, it is the safest option for a dissolvable capsule.
• Why don’t consumers like it?
o Don’t know what it is.
o It’s found in many supplements, so people think they are getting too much if they take multiple products.
• Important facts to know:
o It is a very highly studied cellulose variant.
o Choices for capsules are limited to gelatin, HPMC, and starch-based softgels, and most people prefer vegetarian capsules over gelatin.

• What is it?
o A fatty extract from plants.
• Why do we use it?
o As an emulsifying agent to help ingredients to disperse better in water.
• Why don’t consumers like it?
o It is found in many preserved foods, so it’s a familiar item associated with processed foods.
o It’s usually sourced from soy, and many people have allergies or preferences to avoid soy since most soy is GMO.
• Important facts to know:
o Lecithin is a natural substance that is highly purified. There are no traces of the original source and zero chance of any allergenic proteins being present, so most people with allergies or concerns about GMO do not need to worry about soy lecithin.
o Lecithin is a good source of phospholipids, which make up your cell membranes and allow them to function properly. Some even recommend taking lecithin as a supplement.

Magnesium Hydroxide
• What is it?
o A magnesium-containing base or alkaline substance. Also known as “milk of magnesia”, It is often used in medicine as a laxative or as an antacid.
• Why do we use it?
o As a pH adjuster, to counteract acids and increase pH/alkalinity.
• Why don’t consumers like it?
o It sounds like a harsh chemical.
o It’s often used in pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications.
• Important facts to know:
o It’s used in supplements that promote alkalinity, and many people are interested in increasing their alkalinity.
o It’s a source of magnesium, a crucial mineral that many people are deficient in.

You may also be interested in: “Are Hard to Pronounce Ingredients Still Safe?”


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