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Supplement Fillers and Additives A-Z

Browse Fillers and Additives A-Z

In the supplement industry, the addition of inactive ingredients is considered necessary because they provide bulk, stability, sweetness, thickness, or flavor, or they may make it easier to swallow the pills or stop them from sticking together. Many of the additives used in supplements are on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list, while others are on the FDA’s inactive ingredient list. In either case, the industry and government consider these ingredients to be safe, but not all scientists and consumers agree.

The majority of multivitamins, individual nutritional and herbal supplements, and protein products contain 25 to 50 percent fillers, regardless of whether you are buying tablets, capsules, liquid, or powder.  Fillers and additives may include artificial colors, artificial flavors, lactose, corn, soy, sugars, gluten, egg, and wheat as well as stearates, shellac and partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Fillers/Additives Description

A

Acesulfame potassium (K): artificial sweetener.

B

Beeswax: derived from honeycomb and then sterilized. Used for flavoring and to coat tablets. Considered safe but should be avoided by anyone who has bee allergies
Benzyl alcohol: an antimicrobial preservative. On the FDA’s inactive ingredient list. Adverse reactions to benzyl alcohol in medications have been noted.

C

Calcium disodium EDTA: used as a preservative and safe when used as such. Can cause side effects when used in extremely high amounts (>3 grams daily)
Calcium hydroxide: obtained from limestone. GRAS. High amounts can shift acid-base balance, but is unlikely from supplement use.
Calcium sulfate: guards against excess moisture, used as a filler in capsules. GRAS
Cellulose microcrystalline: derived from a plant source, typically high-quality wood pulp. Used as a binder and to help tablets disintegrate. GRAS
Cellulose, powdered: derived from a plant source. Used as a stabilizer, thickener, and binder. GRAS
Citric acid: preservative and flavoring agent. GRAS. A small percentage of people have citric acid intolerance or allergy
Croscarmellose sodium: derived from plant fibers. A filler and disintegrant. GRAS. There are unsubstantiated claims that this substance promotes harmful bacteria in the gut.

D

Dextrin (also called modified food starch): produced from starch. Used as a stabilizer and binder. GRAS. Possible allergic reaction from people sensitive to corn.
Dextrose: sweetener.

E

Ethocel 20: plant source. Used to coat tablets. GRAS
Ethylcellulose: plant source. Used as a stabilizer, to mask taste. GRAS

F

FD&C Yellow No 6: although acceptable to the FDA, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest lists this food coloring as “best to avoid”
FD&C Red No 40: although acceptable to the FDA, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest lists this food coloring as “best to avoid”
Fructose: sweetener.

G

Gelatin: derived from animal protein. Used to form capsules and soft gels. Widely used in foods and considered safe
Glycerin: occurs naturally in fats and oils. Used as a preservative and sweetener. GRAS. Rarely causes irritation to mucous membranes
Glyceryl triacetate: derived from fatty acids. Provides moisture, flavor. GRAS
Guar gum: derived from the seed kernel of the guar plant. Used as a binder. GRAS. Possible allergic reactions
Gum arabic: from the acacia tree. Used as thickener and stabilizer. GRAS, but allergic reactions to acacia is possible.

H

I

J

K

L

Lecithin: generally derived from soybeans. An emulsifier. GRAS. May even be beneficial

M

Malic acid: flavoring agent. GRAS. Loose stools have been reported at high doses, but unlikely from taking supplements.
Maltodextrin: sugar derived from cornstarch. Used as a thickener, stabilizer, sweetener. GRAS. Possible allergic reaction among people sensitive to corn
Maltol, natural: derived from pine needles or chicory. Used as a flavor enhancer. GRAS

N

O

P

Polydextrose: sweetener.
Polyethylene glycol: Enhances flow. GRAS. In higher amounts, used as a laxative to treat constipation.
Polysorbate 80: stabilizer. Shown in scientific research to cause severe nonimmunologic anaphylactoid reactions.
Polyvinylpyrrolidone (Povidone): used as a stabilizer, thickener. On the FDA inactive ingredient list.
Potassium sorbate: antimicrobial preservative. GRAS
Propylene glycol: a binder considered safe by the pharmaceutical industry, but excessive exposure causes kidney, heart, and nervous system damage

Q

R

S

Shellac: purified resin. Used as coloring, to enhance flow. GRAS
Silica: prevents stickiness. GRAS. Unsubstantiated claims that excessive amounts can cause allergic reactions
Silicon dioxide: naturally occurring form of silica. Used to prevent stickiness, flavor, emulsifier. GRAS. Unsubstantiated claims that excessive amounts can cause allergic reactions
Sodium benzoate: an antimicrobial preservative. GRAS, although may cause an allergic reaction.
Sodium carboxymethylcellulose: derived from plants. Used as a binder, thickener, stabilizer. Widely used in foods.
Sodium lauryl sulfate: a salt derived from fatty acids. Used as an emulsifier. GRAS
Sucralose: artificial sweetener. GRAS, but avoid

T

Talc: naturally occurring magnesium silicate. Used as a filler. Talc has been shown to accumulate in bodily tissues and has been linked with pulmonary complaints.
Titanium dioxide: titanium combined with oxygen. Used for coloring and to reduce stickiness. Found in confectionaries

U

V

W

X

Xanthan gum: a polysaccharide produced through fermentation of a carbohydrate. Used as a stabilizer, emulsifier. GRAS. Possible allergic reaction for those intolerant to corn

Y

Z

SOURCES: Centers for Science in the Public Interest; Food and Drug Administration; Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition; PubMed.

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Created: September 17, 2010
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