Something Is Lurking in Your Multi

Will taking a lot of supplements with magnesium be harmful?

My opinion has changed a little bit in regards to magnesium stearate. I’m now fairly against the lubricant, which is found in the vast majority of supplement products. I try my best to get supplements that don’t contain it. I know some people have pretty strong reactions to the product, too.

The reason I’m now avoiding it is I’m pretty sure it’s, in most cases, a product of hydrogenation. As you probably know, hydrogenated oils are unsaturated fats, which have been pressurized and blasted with hydrogen (making them more saturated). Processors do this to add stability to the fat, raise heat tolerance and extend shelf-life. The by-product of this process is the creation of trans fats — fats that have been linked to a myriad of health issues, including heart disease, atherosclerosis, inflammation and cancer.

What makes me think the magnesium stearate found in supplements is a hydrogenated fat?

The vast majority of supplements out there don’t incorporate animal products. Vegans make up a significant demographic within the supplement market, so it makes sense for companies to “develop” a product that’s usable by their entire customer base (just like Coke makes their product “Kosher” so as not to drive away potential sippers).

The only problem is, stearic acid (stearate) is relatively difficult to find in the vegetable kingdom. It exists, but not in abundance. You find a bit of it in shea butter and cocoa butter, but these are expensive sources and probably aren’t being used by supplement companies (who want to keep costs low). Which means manufacturers have to “create” stearate in some way — likely through the hydrogenation of cheap seed oils like soy, canola, corn, etc.

I imagine many supplement manufacturers don’t know the source of their magnesium stearate. Many supplement companies contract out the manufacturing of their products (likely to other companies who use cheap fillers). This is speculation, of course, but I believe in using the precautionary principle when dealing with unknowns.

Where does that leave me on the issue of magnesium stearate? It’s not necessarily bad to take, but I’d feel much more comfortable taking it if it was from an “animal derived” source. Stearic acid is found in abundance in animal fats and is completely harmless when consumed, even in abundance (it’s actually quite beneficial as it is the main fuel used by the heart muscle).

As it stands now, though, I look for brands that don’t contain the additive. Your friend should do the same.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.