Why Are There So Many Ingredients in Your Medication and Dietary Supplements?

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If you were going to consume gluten, wouldn’t you rather eat pizza? If you are bent on avoiding petroleum based make up and lotion (and you should be), then why are you taking it in your pills? What if you are adverse to corn? It’s pro-inflammatory in the body, and I know some of you do your best to avoid it, but again it may be in your pills.

Hidden source of these chemicals and compounds are everywhere. Here’s a list of inactive ingredients. They are termed “excipients” in my world, and I’m going to share the most popular ones with you now. Because I was featured as one of the world’s leading experts for The Gluten Summit, and I have many new followers who adhere to a strict gluten free diet (myself included), I have noted all questionable or non gluten-free ingredients with an asterisk.

Generally speaking, the word “starch” is a problem, if it lists “starch” or “maltodextran” on your label, it could come from wheat.  Other sources of starch include rice, corn, potato and tapioca so you have to call and check with the maker.  Two other common ingredients are “dextrin” or “dextrate” and it’s the same story, these starches may come from various sources so find out. Caramel coloring is almost always okay, but on occasion, I hear it is derived from barley malt. Be careful ingesting anything with an asterisk if you have Celiac disease, or you are committed to a gluten free lifestyle. You will see the word “binder” at times, this means the ingredient keeps things together in your pill, the word “disintegrant” means that it ensures your medication or supplement break up in liquid and release the active ingredient quickly.

In terms of gluten, you don’t have to worry about any of these:

  • Anything that says cornstarch
  • Any sugar, they end in “ose” such as dextrose, sucrose, fructose
  • Honey or corn syrup
  • All ingredients that end in “cellulose”
  • Alginates, agar or acacia
  •  Carrageenan
  • Gellan, guar and xanthan gum
  • Polyvinylpyrrolidone, povidone, croscarmellose sodium

If you have a comment, or can add to my list, kindly email me here: info@scriptessentials.com

Ingredient                                          Where do they come from?

Acacia                                                      Gum from acacia tree used as binder in medicines (Synthroid, levothyroxine), and peel off masks

Aluminum Lake                                    Dyes, often used in lipsticks, but also in medications and supplements

Ammonia                                                Smelling salts, or as a cleanser, sometimes used in medications, see my list1

Artificial sweeteners                            From a lab, they are gluten free

Acesulfame                                            Artificial sweetener

Aspartame                                             Artificial sweetener

Benzyl alcohol                                      Made synthetically from tar oil (toluene) used as an antimicrobial, preservative

Calcium carbonate                              Tablet or capsule diluent, also sold as a calcium supplement by itself

Calcium stearate                                  Similar to magnesium stearate, see below

*Caramel coloring                               Occasionally derived from barley malt, needs to be identified

Carmine                                               Natural colorant derived from crushed beetles, gluten free

Cellulose                                             A natural ‘glue’ from the stalk of plants

Cetyl alcohol                                       Waxy substance that comes from spermaceti, the head of a sperm whale

Citrate (citric acid)                            Disintegrant

Chicory inulin                                     A natural fiber from chicory root; has benefits as a prebiotic

Chitosan                                              Natural disperser made from shrimp or other crustacean

Corn starch                                          From corn, definitely gluten free, but sometimes it is GMO

Croscarmellose                                    From wood or cotton fibers, a disintegrant

Dextrans                                              Sugar molecules strung together (complex carb), it absorbs moisture and swells

Dextrimaltose                                      Sugar, it may be derived from barley malt, find out

*Dextrin                                              Starch, usually corn or potato, but could be rice, wheat or tapioca

Dextrate                                              Sugar molecules, sometimes used in effervescent tablets or chewables

Dextrose                                              Sugar derived from corn starch

Diglyceride                                         Derived from fats or oils

FD & C dyes                                       Regardless of the number, these are artificial colors added to make it “pretty”

Fructose                                              Sugar derived from fruits

Gelatin                                                Animal derived, it is extremely common and used to make capsules, tablets, softgels

Glycerin                                              Possibly derived from propylene (a petroleum product)

Glycerols                                             Derived from fats/oils, it’s actually classified as an alcohol

Iron oxide                                           It’s oxygen and iron combined; when it rusts, you get a coloring agent

Kaolin                                                 Clay but it may be natural or synthetic, see my notes below2

Lactose                                                Milk sugar used primarily as a filler

Lactilol                                                Milk sugar alcohol

Magnesium stearate                          Derived from stearic acid, a plant fat, used for lubrication

*Maltodextran                                      This usually comes from corn, but also wheat, potato or rice

Methylcellulose                                   A natural ‘glue’ from the stalk of plants

Methylparaben                                    Suspending agent or antimicrobial preservative, thought to be an endocrine disruptor

Microcyrstalline, powdered                A natural ‘glue’ from the stalk of plants

*Modified starch                                Unless the source is identified, it may contain gluten

Monoglyceride                                    Derived from fats or oils

Hydroxymethylcellulose                   A natural ‘glue’ from the stalk of plants

Pectin                                                  Natural dispersant and gelling agent, from fruits, berries and citrus rind

Polyethylene glycol     or PEG         Improves solubility of medicine

Polysorbate                                         A version of sorbitol

*Pregelatinized starch                         Unless the source is identified, this could contain gluten

*Pregelatinized modified starch         Unless the source is identified, this could contain gluten

Polyvinylpyrrolidone                          Popular plasticizer used as a tablet binder and disintegrant

Povidone                                             Tablet binder and disintegrant; it is bound to iodine in the antiseptic “Betadine”

Sorbitol                                               Sugar alcohol, may cause cramps, flatulence and diarrhea in sensitive folks

Shellac                                                 Coats tablets to disguise an unpleasant taste and reduce moisture, comes from bugs3

Silica                                                   Known commonly as sand or quartz, it’s an anti-caking agent, disintegrant or flow agent

Silicon dioxide                                    See silica

Sodium laurel sulfate                          From coconut oil, it enhances dispersion

* Superoxide dismutase                      This is a protective antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, check the source

Sucralose                                             Artificial sweetener

* Starch                                               Could be derived from gluten, rice, tapioca, corn or wheat

Stevia                                                  Natural plant-based sweetener

Sucrose                                                Sugar (it is fructose married to glucose), sometimes called “table sugar”

Titanium Dioxide                                White dye; it is microscopic titanium (metal) particles, found in make up, sunscreen, etc

*Wheat                                                Filler, this always contains gluten, sometimes noted as “wheat starch”


1 The most popular medications that contain ammonia include the following, however, it depends on the manufacturer. This is not a complete list:

a)  Diltiazem XR 240 mg by Mylan

b)  Divalproex 250 mg and 500 mg

c) Fluoxetine, an antidepressant fluoxetine produced by Teva or Pliva

d) Lansoprazole 30 mg by Reddy

e) Lithium carbonate 300 mg by Glenmark

f)  Minocycline 100 mg by Teva

g) Omeprazole 20 mg and 40 mg by any of these companies: Apotex, Mylan or Kremers Urban

h) Phentermine 30 mg by Lannet

i) Tempazepam 15mg and 30mg by Novel

j) Tramadol 100 mg by Par

k) Tussicaps by Mallinckrodt



2 The word “kaolin” could mean a lot of things. It is another way to say clay, however, I think of clay as a naturally occurring substance that helps a wide variety of health issues.  Kaolin could be synthetic though, and it may be also called  China clay. I’ve seen kaolin referred to as “aluminum silicate,” “porcelain clay,” “white bole” or “Hydrated Aluminum Silicate.”  It may be used as an artificial colorant. You cannot tell from the word “kaolin” if this is natural clay or synthetic. You will have to call the makers.  Regardless of the source, it is a gluten free substance.


3 Shellac is a resin derived from insects called Kerria Lacca and they secrete lac. The secretions are sticky, and may be processed along with other ingredients (even plasticizers) to use in medications or supplements. The secretions are also sometimes used to dye wool or silk.