When reading the ingredient list of food supplements you can get a little bit confused ̶ magnesium stearate, ethyl and hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, maltodextrin, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, aspartame… Do you sometimes feel that the list never ends?
Different additives can be of natural or synthetic origin and they can have several functions: for instance magnesium stearate is used as a stabilizer or an emulgator, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is used as an emulgator or an anti-caking agent, different sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose make the supplements more tasty etc.
Why are different additives used in food supplements? Additives are used mainly as bulk substances and e.g. to improve the appearance, shelf life, structure and taste of supplements. Synthetic additives used in food supplements are cheaper compared to natural alternatives and do the job well. By using cheap additives, food supplements´ manufacturers can produce the product more cheaply.
Glazing agents can make the pill more slipperly but experience shows that it is just as easy to swallow a pill without any glazing agents. Food supplements for children very often contain different artificial sweetenes and food dyes. Who wouldn´t fancy a red jelly bear? In this case it is the responsibility of the parent to think twice before rushing to pay. You shouldn´t buy different food supplements just in case ̶ a varied healthy diet is the foundation. Food is and will always be the best way to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals for your body. In case you have certain vitamin or mineral deficiency, take a moment to read the ingredient list, especially when purchasing food supplements for children!
Hopefully the tabel below makes your life easier during your next pharmacy or shop visit. It describes some widely used additives found in various food supplements. The list is definitely not final.
You should pay extra attention when purchasing OTC drugs. These can contain e.g. a possible carcinogenic (cancerous) emulgator called polysorbate 80, iron dioxide (food dye), which can cause skin reactions; azorubine, carmoisine (aso food dye), which can cause allergic reactions; quinoline yellow, which use is forbidden in Australia, Norway and the USA due to being carcinogenic and many more „interesting“ additives.
|magnesium stearate, E572||emulgator, stabilizer||Magnesium stearate can be of animal or plant origin. It consists of stearic acid and magnesium, which is found in lard, butter, chicken, beef, fish and also cow milk. Plant-based stearic acid can be found in palm and cotton seed oil. Cotton is one of the most usual GMO plants, which are sprayed with pesticides. When the product includes the plant-based version, it is usually written on the packaging.|
|shellac, E904||glazing agent||Shellac is derived from the secretion of a bug called Kerria lacca making it a glazing agent of animal origin.|
|ammonium methacrylate copolymer, methacrylate copolymer||stabilizer||Acrylpolymers. Synthetic polymers are usually produced from oil. It is also possible to extract polymers from natural raw material. Synthetic polymes are way cheaper and therefore, they are used more.|
|maltodextrin||stabilizer, thickener||Maltodextrin is produced from wheat in Europe and corn in the USA (very often GMO raw material). Maltodextrin is a heavily processed polysaccharide with high glycemic index. Manufacturers of food supplements do not usually include the raw material in the packaging. People suffering from celiac disease and wheat allergy should avoid maltodextrin if products containing it have previously caused side effects.|
|talc, E553b||anti-caking agent||The same cheap talc, i.e. magnesium silicate, which can be found in basic shops sold in powder form, is often used in food supplements. For example in Estonia, talc has to be asbestos free when used as an anti-caking agent. However, most of the food supplements are manufactured elsewhere, therefore, you cannot be sure that the talc used is actually asbestos free. Asbestos is dangerous when inhaled, it damages lungs and causes cancer.|
|glycerol, E422||preservative||Glycerol, a.k.a. glycerine, is widely used in food supplements. Glycerol can be produced from animal or plant fat. It is often the by-product of soap manufacturing. There is also glycerol in the market, which is a by-product of oil.|
|titanium dioxide, E171||food dye||When testing on mice, it has been found that the food dye titanium dioxide can damage lungs and cause inflammation. It is more dangerous when inhaled –in 2010 IARC added titanium dioxide to 2B list, also known as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Titanium dioxide is forbidden in Germany and currently the European Commission is having ongoing discussions about changing the classification of titanium dioxide. France has also planned to forbid the additive due to cancer risk.|
|non-intensive sweeteners||Non-intensive sweeteners contain calories and raise blood sugar level, therefore, they are not recommended for diabetics. Consuming such sweeteners in bigger amounts can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.|
|acesulfame potassium, E950
|artificial sweeteners (intensive)||Intensive sweeteners do not contain carbohydrates and calories, thus, not raising blood sugar level. Such sweeteners are not recommended to children, people with kidney and liver problems and are contraindicated for pregnant women. A lot of research is available about different possible side effects. These include for example diabetes, leukemia, gut pH level changes and gut microflora disorders (less good bacteria in the gut). Artificial sweeteners should definitely be avoided.|
In addition to high bioavailability iron bisglycinate, Nôgel´s iron food supplements in pill form contain only four natural ingredients: Estonian nettle powder, organic Acerola, organic Korean chlorella and carnauba wax (harvested without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides). The iron syrup for children contains in addition to iron bisglycinate organic orange, organic pear, and a little bit of Estonian nettle tea that we produce ourselves. The content of iron and vitamin C in the supplements have been checked in laboratory.
Estonian nettle powder is produced from wild nettle grown in a solid growth area, which has been tested for heavy metals and minerals in laboratory in co-operation with Estonian University of Life Sciences. Every new patch of nettle is tested in laboratory for heavy metals. Our nettle is a pure raw material. Because we value quality and pureness of raw material, the iron food supplements are produced without magnesium stearate, food dyes, preservatives, sweeteners and do not contain lactose, casein, yeast, soya, GMO, gelatine, animal ingredients and is naturally gluten free. Why make things difficult?
Estonian Food Industry Association
A.Aro, M.Mutanen, M.Uusitupa. Nutrition science, 4.-7.volume, 2017
IARC – Monograph of titanium dioxide