Excipients – Binders – Fillers

When you look at the product label on most vitamin supplements you’ll find a section labeled ‘Other Ingredients’. Generally these are not active ingredients but substances used to facilitate the manufacturing process and/or assist with product assimilation.

These ‘Other Ingredients’ generally fall into the category of ‘Binders’, ‘Excipients’ and ‘Fillers’.

What are excipients, binders, and fillers? Why are they necessary?

Excipients are inactive ingredients, usually odorless, tasteless, and colorless. They are necessary (not optional) during the manufacture of tablets and capsules (including softgels), to –

  • Help with powder flow during encapsulation or tableting to prevent it from sticking to the processing equipment.
  • Ensure even dispersal of raw materials in the capsule.
  • Prevent crystallization of capsule active ingredients
  • Help capsules dissolve in a timely manner and/or increase bioavailability and assimilation
  • Ensure a consistent fill of the capsules (filler)
  • Facilitate product use, such as enhancing the mixing capability of a powder
These are the functions of typical agents used in the capsulating process, there are also additional uses for tablet making which I won’t cover here, since we no longer use tablets for our royal jelly products.
We refer to these ‘other ingredients’ as ‘inactive’, versus the actual royal jelly/bee pollen/propolis/honey powders which are of course termed ‘active’. The use of inactive ingredients in the manufacturing process is essential in helping to deliver a product of consistent quality.
The inactive ingredients we use in our royal jelly capsules such as Total Bee Plus are –
Stearic Acid –
Stearic acid is used as a binder in our capsules. There are both animal or vegetable sources of stearic acid and we use only vegetable. It is found naturally in vegetable oils, cascarilla bark extract, and is used widely in the food industry. Many people see the words ‘stearic acid’ and assume that it’s some form of chemical additive, but it is not.
Does stearic acid interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals?
No it does not. In the miniscule levels used in capsule manufacturing it has no nutritional impact or affect on any other ingredient within the capsule. Remember that the tiny amount of stearic acid in a typical capsule is much less than what you’ll find in a salad with olive oil, which is a natural source of stearic acid.
Magnesium Stearate
Again, this is a vegetable based substance made widely by hydrogenating cottonseed or palm oils. It is used throughout the supplements industry as lubricants in the capsulating process. Mag Stearate also slightly slows the digestive process, providing a natural ‘timed release’ component to the product, though this is very marginal.
Silica –
Silica is used in minute quantities to absorb moisture from the active ingredients and prevent caking. Silica is a natural mineral which is derived from sand and is used in its own right as a nutritional supplement. The tiny quantities we use do not really provide any nutritional benefits per se, the simply help maintain the integrity of the powder in the capsule.
Vegetable cellulose
Is a substance derived from various plant fibres and used as a filler in the production of capsules. Again this is a non nutritive substance used in small quantities to make up the difference between the weight of the active ingredients and the maximum capacity of the capsule. It’s good product design to create a formula and size it so that it fits into a specific capsule shell size without the requirement for excessive filler use.
Veggie Gelatin – the capsule shell –

Most products still use a bovine based Gelatin, we use vegetable based gelatin for our caps. We use a two-piece shell so that it can very easily be pulled-apart and the powder emptied into water or any cool drink. This seems to be favored by some people who have trouble swallowing the capsules whole.

Quality of the manufacturing process –
Regardless of the product formula, it is still essential to exercise skill and care during the manufacturing process to ensure a quality finished product. A reputable manufacturer of high quality nutritional supplements will perform a number of different tests before, during, and after the manufacturing process to ensure quality in the finished product, and should be able to provide you with documentation to support their processes upon request. The standards used by the most reputable companies are laid down by and referred to as ‘eGMP’.
Hope this helps with a better understanding of the processes and materials involved!
CH