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How to tell if your supplements work (or not)

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Would it upset you to find out you are only absorbing 25% of your expensive vitamins?

You probably buy organic, avoid artificial colors and preservatives. I bet you are conscious of better brands of clothing, handbags and food.  But have you ever thought about the quality of the vitamins in your cabinet?  Would it upset you if you spent $30 on a product but only absorbed 25 % of what was listed on the label?   It’s like getting ripped off, yet you don’t even know it, because you don’t know about Magnesium Stearate or “mag stearate.”   

First I want you to realize this is NOT magnesium. Repeat, magnesium stearate is NOT the supplemental form of magnesium that you might be thinking of. Magnesium stearate is an additive; one I feel is best avoided. 

Today I’m going to tell you why “mag stearate” should be avoided. I’ll keep it simple. 

  1. It’s not magnesium (an important mineral), don’t ever be fooled by the name again.

  2. It’s a mechanical lubricant intended to grease machines for faster production. 

  3. It has no nutritional value.

  4. It’s an additive. 

  5. Sometimes sourced from Genetically Engineered hydrogenated oils. 

  6. May affect the release time of active ingredients and slow it down

  7. Reduces bioavailability of active ingredients. 

  8. It’s like “grease” it affects the digestive tract in an unknown way.

  9. It’s breakdown metabolite has a questionable effect on the body.

9 Good Reasons to Avoid Stearic Acid in your Vitamins

Companies try to disguise the name of "Mag Stearate" so you don’t know

Look for these aliases: 

 • Magnesium Stearate

 • Zinc Stearate

 • Vegetable Stearate

 • Stearic Acid

Magnesium Stearate is NOT the Nutritious Form of Magnesium

It does not function as a vitamin or mineral, and more importantly, it is not a supplemental form of “magnesium” like the name implies.  

The best way for me to describe it in simple terms is that it’s a FAT (stearate) bound to a mineral (magnesium) which when glued together forms a fat-salt. In the body, with a perfect digestion system you may be able to split this molecule apart. You’ll be left with the stearic acid and a teeny amount of magnesium. 

Mag stearate is not a source of magnesium for your body; don’t be fooled by the name.

Therapeutic doses of magnesium fall into the 200 - 800 mg range, so magnesium stearate (giving you 4 mg out of every 100 mg added to your supplement) is not giving you any magnesium.

Think of it coating all the ingredients in your supplement. 

Magnesium stearate is a chemical compound used by most nutritional supplement companies, and it’s an additive. It’s optional, they don’t have to add it, but most do so that they may be competitive in manufacturing cost. 

When talking about it out loud, people often shorten the magnesium to “mag” so you’ll hear people use the term “Mag stearate” frequently. 

This substance is technically a saturated fat.

It's More Like a Grease

Now you understand, and will never be deceived again.

You know you are deficient in the particular nutrient, for example Vitamin E or folic acid, yet you feel no difference. 

Is it because of ingredients are not biologically active, for example, you should have bought the full spectrum of Vitamin E (not just alpha tocopherol), or maybe you should have bought Methylfolate, instead of “folic acid.” 


Or could it be as simple as the additive in there? Likely it is because there is magnesium stearate in the “other ingredients” that is reducing solubility. If that’s the case you bought a supplement that has its active ingredient ‘bubble wrapped’ and this could substantially reduce the effect by inhibiting the way it dissolves in your gut. You’re making expensive urine when you do that.

Your Vitamins Are More Effective if  "Biologically Active"

• Do you feel ripped off?  

• Do you even try to get a refund, or just throw it out? 

• Do you get stomach upset or diarrhea from supplements?

• If a supplement doesn’t work, or makes you feel bad, that’s a clue to upgrade your formula, whatever the reason. 

Begin to read supplement panels if you want to heal faster, or if it’s easier, just buy from manufacturers who keep things clean, and avoid using additives or excipients, just for sheer profit or convenience.  

What happens if you buy a supplement and it doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything?

Why is it Put Into Supplements as an Additive? 

The one and only purpose for its use is to speed up the manufacturing process so companies can churn millions of pills out per day. There is no benefit to the human body whatsoever. I believe that magnesium stearate is an unnecessary additive that hinders your body’s ability to completely absorb nutrients within the capsule/tablet.

This is not a toxic ingredient as far as I’m concerned; it’s just not good for you 
as it adds no nutritional value and it may prevent you from absorbing all that you paid for. In other words, you see ingredients listed on the label (for example, Vitamin C 500mg) but you may only absorb 15% of that, or maybe 50%, depending on how much magnesium stearate was added AND how long the product powder was mixed before making the final dosage form. No one can predict with accuracy, the magnesium stearate in the “OTHER” ingredients makes it very unpredictable. 

There’s controversy among supplement manufacturers. Certain (I am not naming them) Vitamin Supplement makers go to great lengths to point out how terribly “toxic” and “hazardous” vitamins are which contain it. 

I don’t like this manipulative tactic so I won’t use it on you. I am often in earshot of conversations at trade shows and sometimes it gets rather heated. I once heard a well-dressed man yelling at another man dressed to the “T” about it right in his booth, he said something like, “Right, you only add it because you think your customers are stupid!” 

I personally don’t think that you are stupid, as Mag Stearate is everywhere; it’s pervasive and you derive no benefit from it.

For the record, I could easily be classified as one of those “stupid” people myself as I have bought many supplements that contain Mag Stearate over the years. As a pharmacist I dispensed many products with Mag Stearate not knowing what I know now. 

It’s hard to avoid if you’re shopping at regular stores. The cleaner supplements that are completely free of Stearate (and other questionable ingredients) are sold by high-quality companies, the ones who are willing to put their name brand on a product and take less profit. 

We are a rare few; we bank on you being smart and willing to pay a few dollars more for the best. 

You have to choose to buy from supplement makers that do NOT put it into their supplements, and those makers are hard to find because it costs money to leave Mag Stearate out of the supplement. 
Sounds crazy but true, it is really MORE expensive to leave this ingredient out than it is to put the stuff in!

Anyway, I do think well-dressed man makes a point, supplement makers who add Mag Stearate don’t think they’re customers are savvy enough to know the difference between and additive and a nutrient. They want you to assume the name “Magnesium Stearate” means you’re getting MAGNESIUM. 
But we’ve already covered that, you’re not getting any therapeutic values of magnesium. 

Why is There So Much Controversy?

 To Hide Things From Us?

You see this in supplements all the time, it gets into your supplements through the process of manufacturing and it’s added on purpose, as a flow agent, a lubricant. It makes ingredints flow easily when making capsules or tablets. There’s a great deal of controversy over the white powder and whether or not it should be in your supplements. Technically, it’s a white substance that remains sold at room temperature and it is composed of both magnesium and the fat called stearate. 

It’s added as a lubricant so that the individual ingredients of your supplement (or medication) don’t clump up and clog the machinery and equipment that processes them. It allows the machines to churn out more capsules and tablets in a shorter amount of time because the pipes run smoothly and encapsulation goes off without a hitch. 

Mag stearate is nothing new. There was a study in 1985 (Pharmaceutical Technology journal) that showed slower dissolution times for capsules with mag stearate in them. The more that was added and the longer it was mixed the worse it got. The theory is that if your capsule won’t dissolve quickly, at the appropriate time like you expect (and it’s delayed because of the presence of mag stearate), then you may not get the nutrients in the intended, appropriate section of your intestines so you can absorb them properly, leaving you to say hello to expensive nutrients in your toilet. 

The Mag Stearate additive is stirred in directly with the active nutrients. Mag stearate surrounds the nutrients reducing their ability to dissolve in water or your digestive system. Imagine its placing “bubble wrap” around each active ingredient. Your gut has to poke the bubble wrap (a saturated fat) by churning, adding acid, digestive enzymes and more in order to UNWRAP the ingredients. 

You can see how this VERY coating (encasing) of ingredients in supplements hinders absorption and affects solubility. In the 1985 study there were many photos taken by an electron microscope of the actual particles surrounded by the insoluble Mg Stearate flakes. But it makes the machines run faster and the powder smoother and homogenous and more profit for manufacturers without a conscience.

This begs the question; do companies have less consistency if they don’t use mag stearate?

Of course not, consistency can be achieved by proper mixing. It’s like making cake batter. You have to stir the batter really well, but you certainly don’t have to put Vaseline into the batter do you? I’m being facetious because I don’t like you being taken for a fool. 

We are easily fooled, it’s not because we’re stupid, it’s because they try to hide stuff from us.

Are Manufacturers Trying

1. You’re not made aware that this pervasive additive is even a problem, so why would you ever think to call a supplement maker to complain about it. 

2. The supplement industry banks on you assuming that Magnesium Stearate is really giving you the nutrient magnesium. That’s what they want you to assume, but it’s not the case. The magnesium is there to bind the stearate, it offers no nutritional value. Out of 100mg of magnesium stearate, you might wind up with 4 mg of magnesium, at best. It’s the “stearate” portion that’s the bubble wrapping.  

3. With a name like that, how on Earth are you supposed to tell that it’s an additive, not a nutrient!

4. To be crystal clear, the real “magnesium” is an important mineral in over 300 metabolic functions in the body, it supports the brain, it’s a natural “happy” mood mineral and it helps with focus and attention. This “magnesium stearate” is NOT the same thing

5. There is mass confusion (even debates within my professional field) and unless you read the “OTHER” ingredients, it won’t stand out as an additive, and the name implies it’s good for you. I don’t want you to be naive, I know you want to buy good products, and the best ones are FREE of additives, colorants and excipients as much as possible. 

Only high-quality dedicated manufacturers and supplement makers take the extra time to manufacture without Mag Stearate. Batches are tested for consistency and quality control so be assured that Mag Stearate free supplements ARE in fact just as consistent as those with the additive.  

Think about it:

Maybe You Are Not Getting All the Benefits, hmm?

When you take vitamins and supplements you may very feel some benefits.  But are you getting ALL the benefits? Remember Mag Stearate inhabits the amount you absorb.  And how will you react to this additive?

If you are sensitive, you will get indigestion or belly aches, you might have diarrhea. But sorting out whether that reaction is due to Mag Stearate or the ingredients itself is hard to figure out. 

Scientific experts and healthcare practitioners don’t really know how the human body reacts to Mag Stearate because those studies have yet to be conducted. Consumers aren’t truly aware of the problem with Mag Stearate so they would never know to call a supplement maker to complain about it. 

The controversy continues when multi-billion dollar supplement makers (who add it to their formulas) point this fact out and say, “Don’t worry, we cannot equate a test tube study to the human body.” And that much is true. But for me it’s common sense, why would you choose to put an additive in your body. 

Is Mag Stearate Toxic?

That’s a very strong word, and I wouldn’t use it on mag stearate. 
But still, it’s not good for you. It has no value to you, and it’s sometimes derived from questionable sources. I have been open about this for a long time, long before I opened my own supplement company. I’ve written about the questionable nature of Mag Stearate since 2009, in all my books and several columns, so talking about it today is nothing new and probably review for some of you. 

In some cases, stearates are sourced from genetically modified GMO oils like cottonseed. Not always, but sometimes, and by certain makers who I don’t want to name here. Depending on the source, cottonseed oils may not only be genetically modified, but may also contain pesticide residues, so there is the aura that Mag Stearate may be contaminated.

When I graduated in 1989 from The University of Florida and became a licensed “registered” pharmacist, there was not a single mention of Magnesium Stearate and mind you I had to listen to 6 years of chemistry to get that degree. 

 In practice, as a retail pharmacist at some of the best chains like Rite Aid, Eckerd, Wal-Mart and CVS Pharmacies, I did not get any training about Magnesium Stearate. It’s in medications galore you know. But with medications you can’t really avoid it the way you can with supplements because you have a choice with supplements. 

I began educating myself about the dietary supplement industry because my patients were coming into the pharmacy asking if they could take X supplement with Y medicine and I had to find that out for them. 

About Me

I'm passionate about natural medicine  and I'm a Functional Medicine Practitioner.  I’ve researched for years and even did a short campaign on behalf of The Council for Responsible Nutrition. We naturally assume that an herbal or vitamin supplement is innocuous at best, or perhaps helpful. The very best supplements need to be Magnesium Stearate free.  

I avoid additives as much as possible and it’s not just Mag Stearate, I also avoid FD&C (synthetic) dyes, artificial sweeteners, artificial colorants, talc, titanium dioxides and heavy metals. I do my best to avoid other allergens and problematic garbage like GMO foods, soy products which are manufactured refined foods, and fungal-laden grains, also don’t like to breathe in moldy musty air, and I don’t like ticks. 

As I type that I realize I might be a little neurotic, lol… honestly I’m a fun girl though, despite these preferences. 

Bottom line, Mag Stearate poses potential problems in terms of dissolvability, and for that reason I suggest you stay away from it if you can. It has other aliases since nowadays companies try to disguise the name of it so you don’t know.  

From a Pharmacist's Point of View

Get BOTH of Suzy's newest guides (Retail $17, now yours FREE)

Learn How To Pick Good Supplements

© copyright 2016 Suzy Cohen. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Suzy Cohen, RPh. The information on this website is not intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the care of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor before changing your health care regimen.