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What's in that Food Supplement you're taking?

Updated on June 28, 2011

Many of us are looking to optimize our health and wellbeing, and perhaps make changes to our lifestyle – especially if we know we need to lose a little weight, or we suspect our diet isn’t as perfect as it could be. For lots of people the smart thing to do seems like taking a food supplement tablet, to replace the things we’re missing, or else to add vital antioxidants – such as the PAGG stack supplement, as recommended by Tim Ferriss in the Four Hour Body, containing Policosanol, Alpha-lipoic acid, aged Garlic extract and Green tea flavanols. Since the success of the Four Hour Body book in 2010, hundreds of people have witnessed the benefit of this supplement stack, and various manufacturers have rushed to market all-in-one products to meet the recommended requirements, but if you take your PAGG stack as a tablet rather than a capsule, what else are you taking with it?

The ‘additional ingredients’ that are not active in a medication or food supplement are called excipients. In a capsule, such as that used in Pareto Nutrition’s PAGG stack, the principle excipient is the thin, robust gelatin capsule itself, this protects the ingredients which are encapsulated in their pure liquid form, and protected from light, air, moisture and pressure - this is specially important in the PAGG stack because substances like alpha-lipoic acid degrade very rapidly if exposed. To make a stable tablet form from such a volatile antioxidant, various other excipients have to be employed, such as binders, waxes, fillers, talcs, starches and bulking agents, as well as ‘pharmaceutical glazes’ which cover the whole tablet to try and protect the contents.

High pressure is also often used in tablet production, which not only compromises vulnerable and reactive ingredients, it can also affect dissolving and absorption in the digestive tract – a recent study on a multivitamin tablet product found most of the dose measurable in urine samples of testers, that is to say it had passed straight through their systems unabsorbed, largely because the ingredients were so highly compacted during production.

If you do prefer to take a tablet to a capsule, you should make sure that it is tested to USP standards to ensure it dissolves properly and can be absorbed, otherwise you might as well be quite literally throwing your cash straight down the pan! Look for the ‘USP Verified’ icon on their packaging, and if in any doubt stick with capsules, at least for your PAGG stack supplement.


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