What’s in Your Supplement? – They Are Not All Created Equal

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0 - concer photo (health)I had a client that came in recently with a natural supplement that contained carrageenan. I was very surprised. Many supplements do contain fillers and other excipients, however, carrageenan is a known stomach irritant. In fact, many food manufacturers have phased this ingredient out of their products just for this reason.

It was a good reminder to always read your labels. I often talk about this when it comes to food, but it is just as important when it comes to supplements, whether they are vitamins, minerals, fish oils, protein powders, or other natural remedies. Depending on the quality, supplements can include fillers, binders, artificial colors, synthetic (artificial) vitamins, and other undesirable tag-alongs.

Common Fillers
So, to help you read your labels, I have listed some of the more common offenders, usually found in the “other ingredients” or “inactive ingredients” part of the label.

Before you purchase something new, be sure to read all the ingredients, not just the active ones. If you don’t recognize it, look it up.

  • Corn starch — typically from cheap GMO corn, can invoke allergic responses
  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose — a thickening agent
  • Magnesium stearate — used by manufacturers as a cheap lubricating agent (in their machines), may contain formaldehyde, research and clinical practice shows it to be immune compromising
  • Maltodextrin — often derived from GMO corn, has higher glycemic index than table sugar
  • Methylacrylic copolymer — methacrylic acid, a component of the methacrylic acid copolymer
  • Methylparaben — a type of benzoate, a known cancer-causing agent
  • Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate — a preservative
  • “Other Ingredients” — can include things like talcum powder (suspected carcinogen), dyes (can invoke allergic responses), etc.
  • Pharmaceutical glaze — can be derived from insects, corn and/or beeswax, can contain denatured alcohol, waxes and titanium dioxide, not digestible by stomach acid (sometimes used purposely to bypass stomach for absorption)
  • Polyethylene glycol — a cheap lubricating agent
  • Polyvinylpyrrolidone — a synthetic polymer used as a dispersing and suspending agent
  • Propylparaben — a potential endocrine disruptor
  • Silicon dioxide — a cheap flowing agent used in manufacturing (common sand), insoluble and not digestible
  • Sodium acetate — a seasoning
  • Sodium metabisulfite — a preservative
  • Stearic acid — can cause irritation in some but mostly if used topically
  • Titanium dioxide — used for color, can be liver compromising
  • Triethyl citrate — a plasticizer

Not everyone is going to be sensitive to every ingredient listed above, but if you are truly trying to improve your health you want to use the purest supplements with the best quality possible.

Synthetic Vitamins
Not all vitamins are created equal either. Less expensive supplements often include synthetic vitamins, which are man-made instead of the real thing, because they are cheaper to make. Examples include folic acid (instead of real folate), Vitamin D2 (instead of natural D3), cyanocobalamin (less absorbable B12), Vitamin A, Vitamin E, etc.

Vitamin C is another tricky one. Many vitamin C products are made from ascorbic acid, which is most commonly made from GMO (genetically modified) corn. You really need to know the source of the ascorbic acid. (That is one reason I am not a big fan of high-dose vitamin C protocols, at least not for long periods of time.) A better Vitamin C option would be from a whole food source such as camu camu or rose hips.

Even the typical cod liver oils (CLOs) found in most stores contain synthetic Vitamins A and D2 (as compared to fermented CLO and other professional-grade CLOs that retain their original A and D3) . Your body does not recognize synthetic vitamins so they can eventually cause more harm than good, especially when taken long term.

Difference in Quality
Not all professional grade supplements are created equal either. Even though professional grade supplements are typically more potent than store bought ones, these can still include fillers, excipients, and allergens.

At Life Design for Health I am careful to carry top quality products that are GMO-free, gluten-free, dairy-free . . . and products that are free of unnecessary dyes, preservatives, fillers, binders, etc.

Many of our herbal products are also spagyrically processed which means that they are made of the entire plant, both the water soluble and oil-soluble components as well as the mineral-rich pulp, making them more concentrated and more easily absorbed by the body than your typical store brand.

Be sure to read your labels and make sure you are getting supplements that are healing to your body. Feel free to contact me to stock up on immune system basics such as probiotics, Vitamin D3, quality cod liver oil, herbal antimicrobials, etc. Or, use my on-line dispensary FullScript – create an account and order at any time. (Look for products marked as “my favorites” for the purest supplements.)


This article was written by Sharon K. Harmon, PhD, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health by looking at the body from a unique perspective. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website, including a healing foods and pantry list and recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free and GMO-free. She is also passionate about EMF safety.

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