We reached out to Metagenics Senior Manager of Medical Information Mark Kaye to answer frequently received questions on supplement delivery formats, like capsules, tablets, and powders.
Are capsules better than tablets?
It’s an interesting question—and the answer may surprise many people. Capsules are not better than properly made tablets. In fact, capsules are simply an alternate delivery form. Often the choice is based on the ingredients in the supplement.
How do you decide which ingredient combination goes into a tablet or capsule?
There are a number of factors that would be considered when choosing whether to develop as a tablet or capsule. One example is odorous ingredients. For these, where the odor may be objectionable, capsules definitely provide a benefit. Another example is nutrients that may absorb moisture from the air. For these capsules also may be preferential. Serving size also plays a role. Since most capsules hold less total nutrient volume as compared to a similar size tablet, the use of capsules may increase the number of pills taken daily to achieve desired nutrient intake.
Lastly, consumer preference. Where possible, a manufacturer may offer the same supplement in both capsule and tablet delivery. Metagenics offers our Cal Apatite® Bone Builder® supplements as tablets, capsule, and chewable. The OmegaGenics supplements as gelatin softgels, vegetarian softgels, chewable softgels, and liquid forms. (Primary differences are by intended consumer. A preference for children may be chewable softgel or liquid.)
But tablets have to be broken down first. With capsules, aren’t the ingredients immediately available?
Both tablets and capsules have to be broken down (dissolved/disintegrated) prior to the ingredients’ being available to the body. Modern tablets are actually made very similarly to veggie caps, being made from plant fiber. Both veggie caps and modern plant-fiber-based tablets share very similar digestive characteristics, with no superiority in disintegration or bioavailability.
What about those with poor digestion? Are capsules better since they are not compressed?
As plant fiber is water soluble, there is no requirement for digestive support (stomach acid or similar) to disintegrate a modern plant-fiber-based tablet. A number of years ago Metagenics did an internal study, which showed the modern, plant-fiber-based, water-soluble tablet is readily dissolved in the digestive system. As to compression, recall what a vegetarian capsule is: compressed plant-fiber, just like its modern tablet counterpart.
I’m worried about lubricants and fillers. Are there any benefits using capsules vs. tablets?
Lubricants are important in both capsules and tablets. The purpose is to ensure that that the nutrients specified on the label are found in the supplement at the level specified. Lubricants are added in very small quantities to reduce friction and powder adhesion during tablet or capsule manufacture. The question is, if these important lubricants are not used, how does the manufacturer prove the nutrients, some at microgram levels, are each present to label claim?
Stearic acid and magnesium stearate are neutral saturated fats that are used quite sparingly as lubricants. Stearic acid is one of the most common dietary fats consumed in healthy diets—found in olive oil as example— and is metabolized by the body to oleic acid (the same monounsaturate as found in olive oil). Magnesium stearate is simply the essential mineral magnesium attached to one of the most commonly consumed dietary fats.
As to these lubricants “coating” the nutrients so that they are not absorbed, since stearic acid is so common in the diet, does anyone suggest that this common fat—or any fat—“coats” the nutrients in food so they are not absorbed? Not likely. There is much misinformation regarding stearic acid/magnesium stearate, but these are the simple facts.
How about fillers?
Quality manufacturing uses no “fillers.” Each and every ingredient—whether in a tablet or capsule—serves an important purpose. Some refer to plant fiber used in tablet manufacture as a filler. If that is the case, what is a veggie cap, as it is the same plant fiber that is used as the capsule. In both cases these plant fibers are not active nutrients but are important in delivering those nutrients to the consumer. Lastly, to capsules, all will require some nonactive ingredient to fill space, as capsules come in only in a few standard sizes.
Is there a psychology at work with patients’ perception of pills?
There were two interesting papers, one published in 1982 the other in 1996. The discovery was, in essence, the psychology underlying consumer perception to pills. The result was that patients taking the exact same medication responded better to capsules—the larger the capsule the better—and to color—certain colors were reported to produce a more favorable response. At Metagenics, our focus is not the psychology of pill manufacture but the clinical results obtained from their use.
Whether tablet, capsule, chewable, NutraGems®, softgel, powder, or liquid, are all effective means of providing nutritional support to patients. Metagenics offers multiple delivery forms as well as a variety of flavors to maximize clinical efficacy and patient compliance.
About Mark Kaye
Mark A. Kaye DC, Senior Manager, Medical Information, Medical Affairs: Dr. Kaye started with Metagenics in June of 1995 and has been leading seminars, speaking internationally, writing, and supporting practitioners through programs including Innovative Practice Solutions (IPS) and FirstLine Therapy (FLT) ever since. Mark manages Metagenics Medical Information team, providing practitioner support for medical foods, functional foods, and dietary supplements in clinical practice. In addition, Mark supports Metagenics International Distributors in their clinical and product needs and is involved in compliance with U.S. and Canadian dietary supplement regulations. Dr. Kaye received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic and was in private practice in Southern California for approximately ten years prior to joining Metagenics. In addition to licensure in California, Dr. Kaye was licensed to practice chiropractic in Arizona and Maine.