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Excipient 101

An excipient is an inert substance that is added to a tablet, capsule, or liquid in order to make it easier to administer. While we attempt to minimize the use of excipients in our products, they are sometimes necessary to stabilize ingredients in a form that allows them to be utilized by the human body.

The decision to add an excipient to a product depends on the characteristics of the compound and how it is to be processed (as a tablet, capsule, or liquid). Excipients can help transport the key ingredients to the site in the body where the ingredients can be absorbed. They can also keep the ingredients from being released too early in the assimilation process, help the tablet or capsule to disintegrate into particles small enough to reach the blood stream quickly, and protect the product's stability so it will be at maximum effectiveness at time of use. We use excipients from natural sources whenever possible, and always strive to use the minimum amount of excipient necessary to ensure an effective product.

All the excipients used in our products (and in all food, drug, or nutritional supplements sold in the United States) must first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as mandated by Congress in the United States Code of Federal Regulations. We also adhere to the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards for identity, strength, quality, purity, packaging and labeling for excipients.

The following is a list of some of the more commonly used excipients in our products:

  • Cellulose – One of the most commonly used tablet and capsule excipients. A white, odorless, tasteless powder derived from wood pulp. Functions as an adsorbent, a suspending agent, a diluent, and a tablet disintegrant. Also known as microcrystalline cellulose.
  • Gelatin – A common hard-shell or softgel capsule ingredient, usually derived from either porcine (pig) or bovine (cattle) sources.
  • Glycerin – A common softgel capsule ingredient, often derived from vegetable sources. It softens gelatin, improving the flexibility of the softgel.
  • Lecithin – A commonly used coating agent derived from soy. The allergenicity of soy lecithin is still highly debated in the industry. Can also be utilized as a flow agent or emulsifier.
  • Magnesium stearate – One of the most commonly used excipients. Functions as an effective capsule and tablet lubricant, aiding in the processing and improving the flow characteristics of the formula. Generally used in concentrations of 0.5 – 5%.
  • Modified cellulose – One of the most common tablet coating ingredients. Can also function as a stabilizing, binding, or suspending agent. Contains no sugar or starch. Also known as hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or HPMC.
  • Modified cellulose gum – One of the most commonly used disintegrants, which aids in the break up of the tablet or capsule when ingested. Also known as sodium croscarmellose.
  • Silicon dioxide – An ingredient with a small particle size and large specific surface area used to improve the flow properties of dry powders. Also used as an adsorbent.
  • Soybean oil – A common ingredient utilized in softgel and chewable tablet formulations. Helps stabilize lipophilic (“fat-loving”) ingredients.
  • Stearic acid – A vegetable-derived and commonly utilized capsule and tablet lubricant or emulsifying agent. Frequently used in combination with magnesium stearate.

For more details on excipients, please check out our supplement glossary.

Published January 19, 2012
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