Do You Know What’s in Your Supplements?

This is a guest post about supplements written by Scott Reid. Scott is a sports and fitness writer and writes full time for Focus Performance. When not in front of his computer or spending time in the gym you can see him hanging out in his favourite coffee shop devouring the latest Stephen King novel. 

Many health-conscious people take regular vitamin and other supplements on a daily basis to help boost their systems but how many of you check the label to see what’s really included in them? You might be unpleasantly surprised.

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The ingredients which lead you to take the supplement, for example, calcium or cod liver oil are what are known as the active ingredients. As you would expect, these are the main ingredients listed for the capsule or tablet which you are taking.

The main ingredients list and health information is what most people are drawn to but have you ever noticed that some supplements also have a list called “other ingredients” on the label – many people don’t notice this.

The “other ingredients” list is where all of the excipients or inactive ingredients will be listed. These extra ingredients are elements which are generally added to improve the stabilising and manufacturing processes when producing the supplements.

This list can also include the components used to make up the capsule.  There are a number of different kinds of excipients which you can expect to find listed in the ingredients for many commercially manufactured supplements.

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Fillers

One particular type of excipient is known as a filler. These are added to bulk up the size of capsules or tablets which would otherwise be too small to actually consume. Ingredients like folic acid, selenium and iodine are included in supplements in micrograms which you couldn’t even see without a microscope.

So fillers are often added into capsules with these ingredients to make the capsule bigger so that they are practical and can easily be swallowed by the consumer.  Manufacturers use elements including sugars, salts, starch and calcium to bulk up capsules so it’s entirely possible that your healthy supplement actually contains sugar as a key ingredient.

Binders

Binders are extra ingredients used to hold the tablets together and can be made of cellulose, but are often sugar derivatives which are used to prevent the tablets from breaking apart or crumbling into pieces.

So again, your supplement which you are taking for health reasons could actually be held together with sugar, so it’s always worth checking the “other ingredients” label in detail, so that you don’t end up with a nasty shock.

Flow agents

These are added to some supplements and tablets as part of the manufacturing process and include lubricants and anti-caking agents in very low levels. They are used to make sure the right amount of ingredients is included in every capsule, as well as stopping tablets sticking to the manufacturing equipment during the process.

Acidulates

These are used in liquid-based supplements to prevent bacteria forming as liquid is a perfect base for bacteria to grow. They are largely created from substances commonly found in fruit and vegetables, such as citric acid.

Disintegrants

Other extra ingredients which are sometimes found in your supplement include disintegrants, which are added to capsules or tablets to help them break down quicker after you have swallowed them. If your tablet is “fast-acting” it is very likely that it will contain disintegrants.

Disintegrants are designed to allow the ingredients in the tablet or capsule to break down very quickly so they are released into your system. These elements dissolve with water or other liquids straight away.

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So do all supplements include these extra ingredients?

Not all supplements use excipients or fillers but manufacturers will try to persuade you that they are essential to the manufacturing process. Always check the label thoroughly because if you are taking supplements for health reasons, only to find they have been bulked out with a sugar-based product then perhaps they are not the best choice for you.

While the active ingredients are the most important element of any supplement, it is worth checking the “other ingredients” label as you might be in for a nasty surprise. While most fillers or excipients make up only a tiny part of the ingredients in a supplement, you are still consuming them on a regular basis.

What if I don’t want to consume these extra elements?

There are manufacturers who are dedicated to producing pure supplements, without using any of these extra filler ingredients so it is definitely a good idea to carry out some research before you commit to buying and using a particular manufacturer. Focus Performance is a good option for clean supplements if you live in the UK. They have a sugar free whey protein and a sugar free hemp protein powder as well as a selection of other good quality products. If you’re in the US, someone like Onnit is a good choice.

If you have any concerns about the inactive ingredients within any supplements you are taking, you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist about them. It’s also worth remembering that some supplements interact with medication as well so always let your doctor know if you start to take any.

Health supplements are designed to enhance your system and support your body so if you wish to continue taking them, don’t be put off by the possibility of extra ingredients, just do some homework and shop around for a manufacturer which doesn’t use them.

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