A wise practitioner once said never to purchase parachutes, contact lenses or pacemakers based solely on bargain basement prices. The same principle holds true for vitamin and mineral supplements. You usually get exactly what you pay for.
Following time honoured practices of the drug industry, many “natural” food supplements contain an awesome list of synthetic fillers. In general, the more filler, the cheaper the supplement. If it’s in a tablet, the chances are close to 100% that some type of harmful filler will be found in the tablet. With some exceptions, pure substances such as vitamins, mineral chelates, herbs or amino acids do not possess the necessary characteristics which allow them to be compressed directly without the addition of binders, lubricants, diluents, disintegrators, colouring and flavouring agents.
The larger the tablet, the more it requires the use of binders such as hydrogenated oils (e.g. calcium or magnesium stearate). Smaller tablets may be manufactured using the cellulose derivatives (ethyl, methyl) as binders.
Time release tablets are perhaps the most worrisome. For example, the release of 1000mg of Vitamin C over a period of 6 hours may require the addition of 400mg of hydrogenated oil (plastic butter) to the tablet. The addition of more oil prolongs the release, while the use of less allows quicker disintegration.
Supplements in a vegetable-based capsule, powder or liquid form do not have such requirements and are far less likely to contain toxic additives. If you are a strict vegetarian, beware of gelatin-encapsulated supplements. Gelatin used in the manufacture of capsules is derived from collagenous beef (bovine) or pork (porcine/swine) material.
Although it is true that most healthy people will have no obvious side effects from ingesting the small amount of toxins found in cheap vitamins, the long term consequences of continuous, daily intakes are potentially dangerous. Over 7% of the population displays sensitivity to these chemicals which, for the most part, do not elicit immediate allergic reactions in the average healthy person. Allergic reactions can affect any organ system in the body including the brain which often displays symptoms such as fatigue, memory loss, depression, anxiety, hallucinations and insomnia.
Today, the most commonly used excipients in drugs, vitamin, mineral and other tableted items are listed below:
From “1992 Excipient Usage In Marketed Drugs, USA”
Silicon DioxideTitanium Dioxide
Sodium Starch Glycolate
Hydroxy Propyl Methylcellulose
Hydroxy Propyl Cellulose
The following is just a partial list of what to watch out for in purchasing nutritional supplements for you and your family:
PROPYLENE GLYCOL —is a well-known anti-freeze used in products such as windscreen washer fluid. It is also the major ingredient in brake and hydraulic fluid. It can be a strong skin irritant with frequent use in cosmetics, shampoos and medicinal lotions. Propylene glycol has been documented to cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS) and SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES) —are used in shampoos for their detergent and foam-building abilities. They are found in garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers and car wash soaps. They are one of the most harmful ingredients found in personal-care products like shampoos. Studies show that these additives react with the ingredients of food supplements or cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrates and dioxins, all of which may enter the circulation with each shampooing or oral ingestion. SLS can be retained in the liver, heart, eyes, kidneys and muscles for periods of several years after use and have been reported to cause eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, dandruff and allergic reactions.
Other potentially hazardous substances found as fillers in vitamin and mineral supplements are SODIUM BENZOATE, BHT, BHA, TARTRAZINE, LACTOSE, PEANUT OIL, HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, TITANIUM DIOXIDE, POLYSORBATE 80, MICROCRYSTALLINE CELLULOSE, MAGNESIUM STEARATE, RED DYE No. 33 and 40, ETHYL CELLULOSE, SORBIC ACID, FRACTIONATED COCONUT OIL and CORNSTARCH.
Well respected researcher, Dr. David Horrobin, describes BHT, BHA, tartrazine and other colouring materials as “ . . . inhibitors of the conversion of essential fatty acids to prostaglandins or are chemically related to such known inhibitors.”
Al Czap reports that there may be long term hazardous effects of taking such chemicals on a regular basis in vitamin and mineral supplements including coronary artery disease. BHT, BHA, chlorinated pesticides such as DDT, plasticisers, aromatics, as well as some alkanes (saturated hydrocarbons such as paraffin or wax) have been found deposited in the plaque of individuals suffering from coronary artery disease. People who use large numbers of vitamin and mineral tablets may actually be contributing to the diseases they are attempting to prevent.
Based on all this information, the best advice would be to purchase supplements in vegetable capsules, naturally compressed tablets, powders or liquids that contain the fewest possible additives. Please note that many manufacturers do not disclose all the ingredients on the label since this is not a legal requirement. Always check with the manufacturer and demand full disclosure before purchasing any food supplement, even if it is purchased in a health food store.
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Blecher, Louis. Excipients—The Important Components. Pharmaceutical Processing Jan 95, page 6.
Bove KE et al. Vasculopathic hepatotoxicity associated with E-Ferol syndrome in low-birth-weight infants. JAMA 1985 Nov 1;254(17):2422-30.
Czap, Al. IS YOUR POLYPLASDONE KOLLIDON WITH YOUR SO LKA-FLOC? Townsend Letter for Doctors, November 1984/Issue No. 21.
Green, Dr. Keith. Detergent Penetration Into Young and Adult Eyes. Department of Ophthalmology, Medical College of GA, Augusta, GA.
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