What’s in Your “All-Natural” Supplement?

Supplements often contain substances besides the active ingredients. Although considered safe for consumption by the FDA, that may not always be the case. Read on to learn more.

Do you read your supplement labels? If you’re in the majority, probably not. Your daily capsule or tablet often contains things other than the active ingredients. These substances are referred to as excipients. Manufacturers add them to improve taste, enhance product appearance, or increase production. You’ll find them listed as “Other Ingredients” below the Supplement Facts Panel on the label. The FDA considers them safe below a set level of consumption, yet there is evidence that this may not be true for some substances.

Are You Familiar with These Common Additives?

Titanium dioxide 

Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is one of the most common excipients. Manufacturers use it as a white pigment in supplements, sunscreen, toothpaste, and powders. For decades, it was considered a harmless substance, but some recent toxicology studies have shown otherwise.

A 2014 study found that rabbits exposed to titanium dioxide developed inflamed lung tissue. Likewise, a study on mice revealed that ingested TiO2 caused inflammation in the small intestine.

Tiny particles of TiO2 can enter the nucleus of the cell and damage DNA. These nanoparticles can also damage DNA by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation. 

Luckily, the human body can repair some of its damaged DNA. Yet over time, unrepaired damage can accumulate in our cells. Damaged or mutated DNA can contribute to metabolic syndrome, cancer, and premature aging.  

Magnesium stearate

Magnesium stearate is used as an emulsifier in processed foods. In supplements, it is mixed with the raw materials before encapsulation or tablet production. This lubricates the mixture to reduce machinery clogs.

Stearates are do not mix well with water or water-containing fluids such as gastric juice. Coating supplement ingredients with stearates can reduce the bioavailability significantly. When you ingest a product coated with magnesium stearate, it does not break down well in the gut. As a result, a smaller amount of the active ingredient reaches the bloodstream. This can greatly reduce the benefit and means you’re paying for a supplement that your body can’t use.

Ingesting too much stearate can also irritate the bowels and cause diarrhea. This problem becomes more prevalent if you’re taking many stearate containing supplements. The substance is also a known allergen and cancause severe reactions in those with a sensitivity to it. 


Carrageenan is used as a thickener, stabilizer, and preservative in meat and dairy products and oil-based supplements. It may cause stomach ulcers, increase inflammation, and even damage your digestive organs. Several studies have shown that it may also cause or increase the risk of colon cancer, digestive disorders, and food allergies.

The breakdown of carrageenan produces a substance known as poligeenan. Studies suggestpoligeenan can induce colon cancer in animals. For this reason, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) hascategorizedpoligeenan as a possible human carcinogen. Carrageenan used in supplements can contain as much as 25% poligeenan. This is alarming, yet you’ll still find it in many products claiming health benefits. 

Silicon dioxide

Silicon dioxide (SiO2) is an anti-caking agent. It prevents powdered substances from sticking to each other and forming clumps.

Until recently, experts considered food-grade silicon dioxide very safe. But in 2018, the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA)recommended stricter guidelines for the use of silicon dioxide in the European Union. This was due to emerging concerns over the potential health hazards of silicon dioxide nanoparticles. Since there is little industry control over particle size, the best defense is to avoid it. 

Potassium sorbate

Potassium sorbate is used in foods dietary supplements as a preservative. It has antimicrobial properties and helps to increase shelf life.

Potassium sorbate can be completely metabolized to water and carbon dioxide. Thus, consuming potassium sorbate infrequently is unlikely to cause adverse effects. But chronic ingestion may cause severe allergic reactions. Likewise, it may also cause migraines and electrolyte imbalance in some people.

Heavy metal contamination has also been a consistent problem with potassium sorbate. Lead, arsenic, and mercury levels are often over allowable limits.

Artificial colors

Artificial colors give supplements and food products an attractive appearance. While artificial colors are ever-present, their safety is questionable. For example, artificial colors in the diet can increase hyperactivity in children. In the 1990s, one study revealed that tartrazine (Yellow #5) increased irritability and impaired sleep in children. Researchers at The New York State Psychiatric Institute corroborated this result in 2004.

Artificial colors may also cause allergic reactions in some people. Although most of these allergic reactions are not serious, long-term consumption should be avoided.

So, while the FDA permits the use of these ingredients in food and dietary supplements, you should still be concerned. Many of the intake limits were set decades ago before the rapid growth of processed foods and before daily supplementation became the norm. Today we’re consuming a lot more of these chemicals than was ever anticipated. 

How Can You Avoid Excipients?

First, read your product labels. If you find an ingredient you’re unfamiliar with, look it up. There are smartphone apps that make this very easy to do nowadays. Educate yourself on what’s in your food and dietary supplements. And then:

  • Eat lower on the processed food pole. As processing increases, so does the use of food additives.

  • Avoid foods and supplements that contain questionable excipients or confusing labeling.

  • Choose clean-label natural supplements without synthetic additives. All Dendera Naturally™ products are free from synthetic excipients and made from non-GMO, pharmaceutical-grade herbal ingredients.

  • And if you can’t live without your favorite food or supplement, contact the producer and ask for cleaner versions. Your preference matters!

Visit our products page for more information on clean label herbal supplements.