Over the years, manufacturers have given us a laundry list of reasons in defense of their decision to use Magnesium Stearate in supplements. The reasons have ranged from “it's from a natural [vegetable] source”, to “supplements can’t be manufactured without it” to “it's inert and, therefore, it's not worth talking about” and, our personal favorite, “it is present in such a small amount that it doesn’t matter.” In this editorial, we would like to advance the conversation on this extremely controversial topic by using a common sense approach to debunk the 10 most frequently propagated myths about Magnesium Stearate in supplements.
Magnesium Stearate is safe and okay to use because it is synthesized using stearic acid, which is usually from palm oil, a saturated fatty acid found in many foods and oils.
Magnesium Stearate is synthesized using Stearic Acid, which is generally derived from animal fats but can be from plant sources as well. Given that most manufacturers list the Magnesium Stearate in their product as coming from a vegetable source, we will limit this discussion to the Stearic Acid derived from plant sources. Vegetarian sources of Stearic Acid include cottonseed oil, canola oil, and palm oil, and there are drawbacks to using any of these sources:
- Cottonseed Oil -Cottonseed oil is from cotton, a high-risk GM crop and one of the most heavily sprayed crops with high levels of residual pesticides.
- Canola Oil - Also known as rapeseed oil, Canola oil is also from a high-risk GM crop.
- Palm Oil - In addition to sustainability concerns, Palm oil contains high levels of Palmitic Acid, a saturated fatty acid which the World Health Organization has identified as a significant contributor to the risk of cardiovascular disease. Comparatively, Palm Oil contains much lower amounts (less than 5%) of Stearic Acid, the fatty acid typically used as a lubricant in supplement manufacturing. And although Stearic Acid may be a naturally occurring fatty acid in palm oil, the form that is used in supplements is refined, deodorized, and bleached; an end-result that can hardly be described as “natural.”
Bottom Line: Magnesium Stearate is a synthetic additive created in a lab by adding Magnesium ions to Stearic Acid. Synthetic ingredients are NOT recognized as food by the body and can, therefore, cause both short-term and long-term cumulative health issues for those who consume it on a regular basis from supplements.
Because Stearic Acid is naturally present in many foods (e.g. roasted chicken, milk chocolate), criticizing the use of Stearic Acid in supplements is illogical.
We are not sure about you, but we continue to be amazed by individuals and companies who defend the use of Stearic Acid as a lubricant in supplements based on the fact that Stearic Acid occurs naturally in many foods. Stearic Acid may occur naturally in many foods, but it does not occur in the synthetic, fractionated, bleached, deodorized form that commercial Stearic Acid is generally available in, which means that it is illogical to project the benefits of naturally-occurring Stearic Acid to the synthetic form. Further, Stearic Acid does not occur in nature in isolation—it is usually present with other fatty acids, at least some of which may affect how Stearic Acid is metabolized in the body.
Magnesium Stearate is NOT harmful because it is used in minute amounts that are too insignificant to worry about. It's no big deal, really.
Truth be told, we find this reasoning a little scary. While It is true that Magnesium Stearate is used in relatively small amounts in each capsule or tablet, most people consume more than 1 capsule or tablet a day, in which case, these small amounts can add up pretty fast. Regardless, the fact that it is used in small amounts cannot be used as the basis for arguing that it is not worth worrying about. You know what else is not harmful in small amounts? Household chemicals. But you don’t see anyone suggesting it is okay to walk around the house taking small sips of them now and then when they are thirsty, do you?
Common Sense Reasons Against the Use of MAGNESIUM STEARATE & STEARIC ACID in Supplements
At NutriGold, we don’t know whether or not the scientific evidence supports or rejects the use of Stearic Acid and Magnesium Stearate in supplements. Our reasons for not using them in our products are simple, straightforward, and based strictly on the facts.
- Reason #1: Contrary to the misinformation propagated by fans of Stearic Acid and Magnesium Stearate, these additives, as far as we know, confer ZERO health benefits.
- Reason #2: Magnesium Stearate is a synthetic additive and the body likely does not have a mechanism in place for utilizing it. Consequently, there is always the possibility that the body may treat it as a toxin and target it for removal; this can produce unwanted, unexpected, or worse, harmful effects in the body.
- Reason #3: There is NO such thing as an inert additive- everything we consume has to be metabolized by the liver, assimilated by the digestive tract, and prepared for removal by the kidneys. Adding unwanted or unnecessary additives can burden these organs and diminish the overall benefits of the supplements they are a part of.
- Reason #4: Magnesium Stearate is NOT the silver bullet that most manufacturers claim is absolutely “essential” for ensuring product integrity during manufacturing—natural, food-grade options are available that perform the same functions without the possible adverse effects associated with Stearic Acid and Magnesium Stearate.
- Reason #5: There are some concerns over the possible negative effects of long-term consumption of Magnesium Stearate and Stearic Acid from supplements, and until we know for sure one way or another, the ethical thing, in our opinion, is to avoid their use in foods and supplements.
Bottom Line: Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing—Stearic Acid and Magnesium Stearate are used solely for the benefit of the manufacturer because they are cheap additives that increase productivity, lower manufacturing costs, and boost the manufacturer’s profitability.
After Magnesium Stearate is broken back down into its component parts in the body, its fat is essentially the same as that of Stearic Acid, except the Magnesium part of it can be used to supply the body with this essential mineral.
There is no pharmacological evidence to support the idea that the body efficiently breaks Magnesium Stearate into Magnesium and Stearic Acid. Regardless, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Magnesium Stearate is present in capsules and tablets at about 5% in a 500 mg formulation, which is equal to about 25 mg of Magnesium Stearate. Given that Magnesium Stearate is synthetic, its bioavailability and rate of absorption is likely be about 5% to 10%. Ten percent of 25 mg is 2.5 mg of Magnesium Stearate—so, are manufacturers suggesting that that Magnesium Stearate can be used to supply the body with about 1 mg of Magnesium, which is 0.5% of the recommended dietary intake of Magnesium and that we should be grateful that the product has Magnesium Stearate as a lubricant? What’s really ironic is that defenders of Magnesium Stearate argue that the amount of Magnesium Stearate in supplements is TOO insignificant to worry about and then go on to suggest that this tiny amount will be efficiently broken down by the body and used to maintain health. You can't have it both ways.
Stearic Acid is converted to Oleic Acid, which has important health benefits, so Stearic Acid [as a lubricant] in supplements is actually a good thing.
In other words, the reason manufacturers use Stearic Acid is not because it is cheap and helps them make more money, but they really are doing it because it is in the best interest of the consumer. This explanation would be funny if it weren’t so insulting to our intelligence and common sense. Of all the reasons offered in defense of Stearic Acid and Magnesium Stearate, we have to admit that this one has got to be one of the most ridiculous of them all. Don’t believe us? Review our reasoning below and decide for yourself:
- While it is true that Stearic Acid is primarily converted into Oleic Acid, the study (Emken, 1994) that is often cited to support this examined the metabolism of “dietary” Stearic Acid or the Stearic Acid that naturally occurs in certain foods (e.g. milk, grape seed oil, olive oil). Results or conclusions from that study cannot and should not be used to defend the inclusion of Stearic Acid that has been refined, bleached, and deodorized into a form that looks nothing like how stearic acid occurs in nature.
- Stearic Acid rarely occurs by itself in nature—it is always in the presence of other fatty acids (e.g. palmitic acid, palmitoleic acid)—and we do not know if, and to what extent, the presence of these other fatty acids influences the metabolism of Oleic Acid in the body.
- While Oleic Acid in olive oil may be responsible for supporting healthy blood pressure, there is no evidence that the body can convert Stearic Acid that has been isolated, refined, bleached, and deodorized to Oleic Acid.
At NutriGold, we don’t believe anyone benefits when a company squanders its integrity and sacrifices its customers’ health in the pursuit of profitability. This is the reason we are uncompromising in our efforts to manufacture products without Magnesium Stearate.
Magnesium Stearate’s possible impact on the immune system is based on an “in-vitro” study—a study that was done in a Petri dish or test tube, not in humans or animals.
We are not defending the “in-vitro” study or its methodology because it is true that the conditions within the human body cannot be simulated or recreated in a test tube or Petri dish perfectly. However, dismissing a study because it was done in a Petri dish instead of in animals and/or humans is illogical when you consider the fact that most clinical investigations are first done in test tubes and Petri dishes before they are done on animals and/or humans. Moreover, even though bodily conditions can never be perfectly recreated in test tubes and Petri dishes, it is worth noting that disintegration and dissolution tests are routinely done in solutions that mimic stomach acids, AND embryos are fertilized in Petri dishes even though the conditions in the Petri dish are nothing like the uterus, where fertilization normally takes place.
So, even though this study may not be enough on its own to reject the use of Magnesium Stearate and Stearic Acid in supplements, it adds some value when considered together with ALL the other reasons why these additives have no place in products intended to support health.
Magnesium Stearate does NOT impact the bioavailability or absorption of the nutrients it is formulated with.
It is rather ironic that those in favor of Magnesium Stearate in supplements are willing to acknowledge evidence that points to Magnesium Stearate delaying the dissolution of active ingredients, but argue, nevertheless, that Magnesium Stearate does NOT impact the absorption of the nutrient.
Even though Stearic Acid is a saturated fat, studies have suggested that it has no negative effect on blood cholesterol levels since such a high proportion is converted to oleic acid. In fact, some research even indicates that stearic acid actually lowers LDL cholesterol.
Here they go again using “borrowed” science to make inappropriate, illogical, and incorrect inferences about the “benefits” of Stearic Acid to justify its use as an additive (lubricant) in supplement manufacturing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we would like to clarify once again that:
- The claim that “a high proportion of Stearic Acid is converted to Oleic Acid” is based on studies of Stearic Acid that occurs naturally in the diet—NOT on isolated, refined, bleached, and deodorized Stearic Acid that is used as a lubricant in supplement manufacturing
- The “studies” which suggest that Stearic Acid, despite being a saturated fat, has no negative effect on blood cholesterol levels were done on “dietary” Stearic Acid or Stearic Acid that occurs naturally—NOT on isolated, refined, bleached, and deodorized stearic acid
- Most importantly, the reason why dietary Stearic Acid, despite being a saturated fat, does not have an effect on blood cholesterol levels is NOT because a high proportion of it gets converted in the body to Oleic Acid, but because it is preferentially utilized for phospholipid [membrane] synthesis in the liver. So, claiming that using isolated, refined, bleached, and deodorized Stearic Acid is a good thing because it is converted to Oleic Acid and helps lower LDL cholesterol is ridiculous at best, and irresponsible at worst.
Bottom Line: There is no conclusive scientific evidence to prove that Magnesium Stearate is harmful and should be avoided when possible, but companies that use Magnesium Stearate must stop denying the fact that the only reason they use it is because it is cheap, quit pretending that their decision is actually in the best interest of the consumer, and no longer attack companies that care about their integrity too much to squander it in the pursuit of profitability.
Magnesium Stearate is synthesized from Stearic Acid, which converts into Oleic Acid in the body.
There are 3 things wrong with the statement above:
- The issue here is with regard to Magnesium Stearate, NOT Stearic Acid, and the two are NOT synonymous. For starters, Stearic Acid does occur in nature, but Magnesium Stearate does not. But even if this statement referred to Stearic Acid, it is worth noting that just as there may be evidence that Stearic Acid converts to Oleic Acid—a monounsaturated fat—in the body, there is also evidence from pre-clinical studies (Monsma & Ney, 1993) that Stearic Acid is NOT converted to a significant extent to Oleic Acid in the liver or in the intestines.
- Magnesium Stearate must be broken down into Magnesium and Stearic Acid before the Stearic Acid can then be converted to Oleic Acid. Assuming the body does not target Magnesium Stearate as a toxin or foreign body and identify it for removal from the body immediately, is it really worth putting your body through the hassle of figuring out how to break down an excipient instead of letting it focus on assimilating the active ingredient? If the goal of taking a supplement is to lend your body a helping hand in maintaining health, it seems a little paradoxical to make its job harder by feeding it synthetic excipients, don’t you think?
- The studies that point to the conversion of Stearic Acid to Oleic Acid focused on the naturally occurring Stearic Acid in palm oil, cottonseed oil, and milk. They most certainly cannot be applied to refined, bleached, deodorized Stearic Acid that is isolated in a lab.
Negative claims about Magnesium Stearate constitute fraudulent marketing and are perpetrated by companies that are irresponsible and sell inferior quality products.
You know the saying, “offense is the best defense”? Well, companies that use Stearic Acid and Magnesium Stearate have that defense perfected to an art form. So, once again, we find ourselves in the enviable position of proving how illogical, and in some ways laughable, their accusations are. Here it goes:
- Claiming Magnesium Stearate is not good for health is NOT fraudulent marketing—it is based on the fact that it is a synthetic additive made using partially hydrogenated oils sourced from high-risk GMO ingredients that are known to have high pesticide residues. What IS fraudulent is claiming that it is from a “vegetable source” and “harmless in small quantities.”
- Claiming Magnesium Stearate is not good for health is NOT irresponsible—if anything, finding non-toxic, food-grade, hypoallergenic, non-GMO alternatives to Magnesium Stearate, even though it can present additional challenges during manufacturing and add to the overall production time and cost is THE MOST responsible thing a company can do. What IS irresponsible is increasing profitabilty at the expense of consumers’ health by choosing additives that are cheap, convenient, and boost the company’s profits.
- Companies that educate consumers about the ill-effects of Magnesium Stearate are NOT the ones who sell inferior quality products. Companies that use Magnesium Stearate in their products solely because it is a cheap additive that helps boost profits with little thought or regard for how it will impact consumer health are the ones making inferior quality products. The decision by some companies to use Magnesium Stearate is all the more shameful because there are much safer alternatives to Magnesium Stearate that will accomplish the same goals without affecting consumer health.