Stearates – Hydrogenated Fats Used in the Production of Most Supplements– Decrease Absorption and May Be Toxic and Immunosuppressive
by Ron Schmid, ND, ©2003
Magnesium stearate, stearic acid and calcium stearate, made by hydrogenating cottonseed or palm oil, are used throughout the supplements industry as lubricants. They are added to the raw materials in supplements so that production machinery will run at maximum
speeds. These fatty substances coat every particle of the nutrients, so the particles will flow rapidly. This ensures that production schedules will meet profit targets.
Cottonseed oil has the highest content of pesticide residues of all commercial oils; cotton crops are heavily sprayed. In the hydrogenation process, the oil is subjected to high heat and pressure in the presence of a metal catalyst for several hours, creating a hydrogenated saturated fat. Hydrogenated vegetable fats contain altered molecules derived from fatty acids that may be toxic. The metal catalyst used in the hydrogenation process may also contaminate the stearates produced (see Erasmus, Fats and Oils).
While toxicity is one problem, decreased absorption is another. In a study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Technology, the percent dissolution for capsules after 20 minutes in solution went from 90% without stearates to 25% with stearates. This delays the absorption of nutrients. Individuals with impaired digestion may have particular difficulty absorbing nutrients coated with stearates.
Another problem with stearates: concentrated doses of stearic acid suppress the action of T-cells, a key component of the immune system. The article “Molecular basis for the immunosuppressive action of stearic acid on T cells” appeared in the journal Immumology in 1990.
Companies that manufacture and transport magnesium stearate must file a Material Safety Data Sheet with the Environmental Protection Agency because concentrated magnesium stearate is classified as a hazardous substance.
Its uses are listed as “ammunition, dusting powder, paint and varnish drier, binder, and emulsifier.” The section “Human Health Data” states that “Inhalation may irritate the respiratory tract” and “Acute ingestion may cause gastroenteritis.”
Under the heading “Regulatory Information,” the paper states, “This product is hazardous under the criteria of the Federal OSHA Hazard Communication Standard.” This information may be viewed at the web site ww.hummelcroton.com/msds/mgstear_m.html
Supplements manufacturers pass off magnesium stearate as a benign form of magnesium. Magnesium stearate is the magnesium salt of stearic acid, which is also used in supplements for the same purposes. The argument is made that small amounts of these substances do no harm. But do you really want them in your supplements every day? Remember, the sole purpose of using these substances is to make the machines go faster. Supplements can be made without them-it just takes more time, care, and attention to detail.
How Much Hydrogenated Lubricant Oils Are You Getting With Your Supplements?
Up to 5% of the average 1000 mg capsule or tablet is magnesium stearate. That’s 50 milligrams. Suppose you take 8 capsules or tablets a day. That’s 250 a month – or 12,500 mg of this hydrogenated oil, nearly half an ounce. That works out to about 6 ounces of hydrogenated oils a year, from just 8 pills a day. Many people take more supplements, and ingest pounds of this toxic oil we try to avoid in our diets – while directly inhibiting the utilization of the nutrients they’re supplementing!
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Remember, the sole purpose of using these oils is to make the machines go faster. Supplements can be made without them – it just takes more time, care and attention to detail.