Herbal Supplements loose guidelines
The herbal supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. There are multiple manufacturers and very loose guidelines to define what 'standardization' means in regards to the active ingredients in a formula. With very few regulations, many supplements, especially those in tablet form, contain excipients. Magnesium stearate, titanium dioxide and talcum powder are a few examples of commonly added excipients. Various studies have found these three additives to be potentially harmful. According to a study done in 1990, stearates were found to suppress the immune system. Talc has been found to be closely related to asbestos, which is carcinogenic. Talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in ovaries and lung cancer victims. (6) Titanium dioxide is also considered carcinogenic.
An article, found on enzymatictherapy.com, claims that certain excipients are beneficial in supplements. They supposedly help ingredients to be absorbed, released, broken down and stabilized. (4) It is possible to manufacture a supplement without excipients. However, the only way to determine whether a product maintains its shelf-life and effectiveness is to have it tested for stability and bioavailability. FDA-registered drug facilities are expected to test their supplements for stability and bioavailability according to certain FDA guidelines.
Supplement popularity sky rocketed during the early 1990's and has grown steadily ever since. Today, supplements like herbal remedies, botanical products and hormones are gaining popularity. (8) Unfortunately, manufacturers are given a lot of leeway and safety may be at risk. According to an article, Big Trouble in the Health Store by Thomas J. Moore, "of the more than 20,000 products on the market only 46 have received a cursory independent safety review at the FDA." FDA officials have said that it is a mistake to consider so-called "natural products" and human hormones safe.
Fumigation, irradiation, excipients, quality control and manufacturing are not regulated in the supplement industry because it is not required by the FDA. An herbalist must be aware of what they are purchasing. It is important to read the ingredient list and to call the manufacturer and inquire about how they process their supplements, where they get them from, and what studies they have to prove effectiveness. It is also best to purchase supplements from extremely reputable companies whose standards exceed the FDA.
I personally do my best to avoid using supplements that have been fumigated, irradiated or filled with excpients. Although there are conflicting claims concerning excipients in supplements, I prefer to avoid them.
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Here is a list of popular excipients found in many supplements and their potential health risks:
Providone (Polyvinylpyrrolidone or PVP)
PVP is a synthetic polymer useed as a dispersing and suspending agent in virtually all encapsulated nutritional supplements; considered to be a potential carcinogen.
This excipient can be made from animal or vegetable sources. It is used as a flowing agent and lubricant. It is insoluble in water and may hinder the absorption of nutrients. Research shows it surppresses the immune system.
A refined sugar obtained by the hydrolysis of cornstarch. It is used for flavor, as a texturizer and bulking agent. Maltodextrin may contain free glutamate (MSG), which occurs as a result of processing. MSG is a known neurotoxin.
Silica is a transparent, tasteless pweder that is practically insoluble in water. It is the main component of beach sand and is used as an absorbent and flow agent in supplements. It may hinder digestion or the uptake of other nutrients and deplete HCl.
Resins are used as binders and aid in water resistance. They may be of plant or synthetic origin and are used in lacquers, varnishes, inks, adhesives, synthetic plastics and pharmaceuticals. Synthetic forms include polyvinyl, polystyrene and polyethylene. Toxicity is dependent on the ingredients used in the manufacture of the resin.
A mineral complex of calcium and phosphorous that is commonly used as a tableting aid, filler or bulking agent. Phosphates can induce the same symptoms as MSG in those who are extremely sensitive to MSG.
A non-ionic surfactant that is a polymer containing oleic acid, palmitic acid, sorbitol and ethylene oxide and is formed by microbial fermentation. It is used as an emulsifier, dispersant or stabilizer in foods, cosmetics, supplements and pharmaceuticals.
This is an inorganic, white opaque pigment made from anatase (metallic mineral) that is often used in supplements as a whitening agent. Titanium dioxide is a pro-oxidant. It is also used in paints and coatings, plastic, paper, inks, fibers, food and cosmetics.
Polyethylene Glycol 3350
This excipient is used as an emulsifier, binder and surfactant. It improves resistance to moisture and oxidation. Polyethylene is a polymerized ethylene resin and glycol is a dihydric alcohol.