For a long time at Lost Empire Herbs, we only dealt in herbal powders and tinctures, and never in capsules.
Why did it take us so long?
There are two reasons…
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You Want to Taste Your Herbs
The first is that there is good reason to TASTE your herbs. In every herbal tradition, whether that is Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Western herbalism or anything else, the taste is a big clue as to the effects of the herbs.
However much Western science tries to force us into a biochemical model, saying nothing else exists, we are also energetic beings. The simple fact is that our nervous systems run off of electricity more so than chemicals.
That is why you can taste something like Blue Vervain tincture and IMMEDIATELY feel it’s calming effects.
It is called a “bitter nervine” for a reason. That bitter flavor is an action on your nervous system. If you do not taste the bitterness, at best, this action will be blunted.
To a bigger or lesser degree, the taste is part of the action on all other herbs.
That is why we encourage you to taste the herbs.
That is why, although we’re starting to make capsules available so we can reach a broader audience, we will continue to offer powders and tinctures. And we will continue to encourage your use of these over capsules.
Most Pills are Bad for You
The second reason that we avoided capsules for a long time is that it took us some time to figure out how to do it right!
This reason is broken down into two parts.
- The capsules themselves.
- What they put in the capsules in order to get the supplement in there.
The Truth about Capsules
Capsules are generally divided into two types; gelatin, and vegetarian.
Most people’s diets are devoid of gelatin, which is helpful for connective tissues because that is where it comes from. This is made from boiling down hoofs, bones and connective tissues, which releases the proteins found inside.
These can be good, but I’d look to the health of the animals used, as well as how they are processed.
Plus, gelatin capsules do have a possible negative issue in that they can become brittle, and age when stored.
Also, some brands add sodium laurel sulfate into the capsules, which is a chemical used in many body care products and is likely best avoided.
Had we gone this route, it would have been difficult because then the vegetarians and vegans may have complained.
So that brings us to vege-caps. Something like 90-99% of the market of these is what is known as HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose).
Despite the name, these aren’t made from vegetables. They’re just not made from animals. So, what are they?
The cellulose comes from wood, which is modified with chemicals to get into the form used for capsules. Essentially, it’s closer to a plastic than a food.
Sometimes, here too, are additives put into the capsules themselves including silicon dioxide, artificial colors, carrageenan and sorbitol. And there are concerns regarding heavy metal contamination.
Pharmaceuticals May Be Even Worse
Wow! I found further details about what is inside the capsules often used for pharmaceutical drugs and anything with delayed-release.
Many of these contain phthalates.
These are definitely best to avoid completely. The problem is you will not see phthalates listed in the ingredients.
Instead of HPMC capsules, we settled on using pullulan capsules. Of the available options, this seemed like the best choice.
These are made from fermented tapioca, which is a starchy root vegetable. So, they actually do come from a vegetable.
This is a water-soluble polysaccharide produced through a natural fermentation process. It is preservative-free, gluten-free, starch-free, allergen-free, kosher and non-GMO.
Additives, Binders, Excipients, Fillers, etc.
Besides the capsules, other things are typically put in along with the herbs or supplements for a number of reasons.
Often these are on the label, but sometimes they’re not even listed.
Common ingredients include, but are not limited too:
- magnesium stearate
- silicon dioxide
- titanium dioxide
- calcium carbonate
- microcrystalline cellulose
- stearic acid
- vegetable gum
- hydrogenated oils
- artificial colors
- propylene glycol
Some of these are used as preservatives.
Sometimes they’re used for brightening colors (like titanium dioxide).
Other times they are flow agents (like magnesium stearate), which are used to get the material more easily into the capsule inside big machines.
We could go deep into many of these and some of the possible dangers they pose. The “party line” is that there are such small amounts of these things that they don’t matter. The truth is that the body is overloaded with such minute things, that we really don’t know what happens when they combine or the possible long-term effects. Plus, individual people may have sensitivities to certain ingredients.
If you’d like more info, here’s a useful page that dives deeper.
The fact is that it is tough to get powders into capsules, without the use of some of this stuff, at least at a commercial scale.
This stopped us from making capsules for a long time.
With our first batch of pine pollen capsules, we added organic rice flour and a tiny amount of diatomaceous earth, which were used as flow agents. As far as what is used in this industry, these should be fine for most people (though it does make the capsules be not paleo-approved).
We’re investigating actually being able to get rid of these completely in the next batch, working with a different supplier.
You must recognize some trade-offs are made for the convenience of the capsule. Sadly, aiming for convenience is part of the health problem so many are facing. (Fast food, anyone?)
We will not go so far as most other companies would just for a cheap and easy product. We will always do the very best we can. So we’re happy to bring you our first capsule…and also to educate you on the “underbelly” of this industry.
Please add your comments or questions below.
- Kelley, K. E., Hernández-Díaz, S., Chaplin, E. L., Hauser, R., & Mitchell, A. A. (2011). Identification of Phthalates in Medications and Dietary Supplement Formulations in the United States and Canada. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(3), 379-384.
- L. (2017, June 26). What Are Capsules Made Of? Retrieved November 23, 2017.
- Excipients and Fillers. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017.