More than half of the adult population in the US takes some kind of supplement. Whether we want to stay healthy, lose weight, enjoy better performance, or avoid more intense medical interventions, many of us are all looking for that magic pill to help!
What consumers might not realize is that most supplement manufacturers, legally and routinely, sell products that contain fillers and additives that are less than the best ever.
When you buy a supplement because you want it to help you in some way, you don’t imagine that some of the ingredients in that healthy product will actually cause harm, but in many cases the excipients, fillers, preservatives and other additives that are routinely added do just that. Additionally, some products are known to be tainted with heavy metals, pesticides, and other unwanted chemicals.
The FDA has limited control over products classified as supplements, so while there are high quality products on the market, there are also a lot of problematic ones.
In order to pick a quality supplement, you must read the product’s entire label. Most of the questionable added ingredients referenced below are typically included in the “other ingredients” section.
Dangerous Vitamin Fillers
When you buy a vitamin in a capsule or tablet form, you may assume that what you are getting is the nutrient on the label, but often you are getting a lot more as well. Most vitamins contain fillers and additives that companies use to help process the product more easily, colorants to make it more visually attractive, coatings to make it easier to swallow, or other chemicals to extend the shelf life.
While the reasons why manufacturers add fillers to their vitamins may make sense, what the fillers do when you put them in your body doesn’t. Just like processed junk foods, you can buy processed junk vitamins. A supplement product that contains any of the fillers noted here should be avoided because it is harmful to your health and because the additives can block the absorption of other nutrients that your body needs.
Unsafe Filler #1: Magnesium Stearate
Many people argue that this magnesium stearate is of serious health consequence and should not be added to vitamins. On the other hand some people say that it has not been scientifically proven to cause serious health problems in humans…yet.
Like many other items, just because there is no clinical research which clearly discredits the value of that ingredient, it does not mean that the component is actually safe. What do we know about magnesium stearate? It is used as a lubricant to keep the vitamins from sticking to each other and/or the equipment.
A few studies have been done on magnesium stearate. One study links this ingredient to suppressed immune system. Other studies show that it will create a biofilm in the body which blocks the body from absorbing any of the other nutrients it requires for good health. Better to be safe than sorry and simply avoid it altogether.
Unsafe Filler #2: Hydrogenated Oils
We know that trans fats in hydrogenated oils in food should be avoided at all costs, but do you expect to find them in your vitamins? Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is one of the primary fillers used in the majority of mainstream vitamin products sold on the market today, especially soft gel vitamins.
Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are dangerous to the body by triggering heart problems, nervous system problems, strokes, and they block the absorption of essential fatty acids. They also make blood sugar regulation more difficult.
Unsafe Filler #3: Inorganic Elements and Metals
If you are taking a supplement to make your health better, why would you take something that suppresses the immune system at the same time? It’s counter-productive.
Titanium oxide comes from the element titanium. It is a naturally occurring oxide that is used in vitamins and many cosmetics as a pigment. Research is now showing that exposure to this and other metals can lead to problems with the body’s immune function.
Another inorganic ingredient, Ferrous gluconate, is iron which comes from actual rocks. This kind of iron additive is not easily processed by the body and causes constipation. Ferrous fumarate is a better, organic form of iron which is derived from plant sources.
Zinc oxide is completely different from the zinc derived from food is considered inorganic. Zinc oxide is produced when metal zinc is heated. Inorganic zinc is used industrially for glue, paint, glass, tires, plastic, flame retardants and more.
Sodium selenite this is the inorganic form of selenium. The organic form of selenium acts as an antioxidant, while the inorganic sodium selenite acts as a pro-oxidant. It has been said to be to cause tumors, birth defects, and genetic mutations in some individuals.
Unsafe Filler #4: Artificial Colors
Artificial colors are added to many supplements in order to make them appear more attractive and inspire greater sales. These colorants have been linked to problems from hyperactivity in children to cancer.
Toxic coal tar is one of the sources for artificial colorants. Coal tar is also used in roofing products and for exterior paints, outdoor sealants, heating accessories and more, but none of these products are edible.
Other colorants such as FD&C Yellow 6, FD&C Blue No. 2 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Red No. 40 Aluminum Lake, and others also derive from coal tar and have been known to cause skin rashes, stomach upset, and vomiting. They contain aluminum atoms which compete with calcium for absorption and elevated levels of which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other problems.
Other ingredients to avoid include:
Sodium Borate which is considered as a hazardous substance widely used in detergents.
Silicon Dioxide is used to keep tablets from sticking together. Derived from quartz, this mineral is the main ingredient used in glass, ceramics, semiconductor chips, etc. Silicon dioxide was proven to have adverse effects in animals. The organic and bioavailable form silica is derived from food.
Sodium Aluminum Silicate is a chemical used to speed up vitamin production. It is basically aluminum and therefore a neurotoxin and a known cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Also, be aware that some mainstream supplements for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding can be problematic, because some contain steroids and prescription drugs.
How to Choose the Healthy Supplements
When it comes to supplements, clearly some are better than others. Avoid mass-produced vitamins which are often owned by large pharmaceutical companies and instead opt for smaller businesses that you can research about first.
Many vitamin manufacturers approach supplements that same way they do medications in that they think they can standardize, process, and manufacture them in the same way that they make prescription drugs, which is an entirely unnatural process. The main thing they care about is including the active ingredient.
Whole food based vitamins are more easily recognized and absorbed by the body. They contain the co-factors that the foods supply which help the body to process the nutrients better and without side effects.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Taking supplements should be in addition to eating a healthy diet. If you eat junk and processed foods and think you will make up for it by taking extra supplement, you are putting your health at risk. There is no substitute for making a variety of fresh, minimally processed, healthy organic foods the primary part of your diet, but whole food supplements or natural supplements produced by small companies that you know and trust can help.