Magnesium stearate is a salt of magnesium that contains stearic acid (saturated fatty acid) in its structure. This magnesium salt is white in color and remains solid at room temperature. With reference to its chemical nature, it is also known as octadecanoic acid. Stearic acid is naturally found in food sources like cocoa, coconut, milk, egg, fish, poultry, meat, etc. The usage of magnesium stearate in pharmaceutical and supplement manufacturing companies is controversial. Though many people claim it to be a safe compound, others are more concerned about the side effects of magnesium stearate.
Uses of Magnesium Stearate
Health conscious people who know about the use of magnesium stearate in supplements and pills often raise the question, 'Is magnesium stearate safe?'. The proponents of this magnesium salt are of the opinion that it is safe and poses no risk for any type of medical problem. After all, stearic acid is present in many of the food items.
Some of the properties and uses of magnesium stearate are highlighted below.
- Magnesium stearate is used as a diluting agent in manufacturing capsules and several nutritional supplements.
- You can also find magnesium stearate as a binding and emulsifying component in baby formulas, baby cosmetics, hard candies, paints, and varnish drier.
- It is a crucial stabilizing ingredient in vitamin tablets, especially when there are multiple vitamins with different chemical properties.
- Magnesium stearate possesses lubricating properties and is the most frequently used lubricant in pharmaceutical industries.
- Once magnesium stearate is added to the composition of tablets, it prevents the components from adhering to the encapsulation equipment, by being in the capsule itself.
Side Effects of Magnesium Stearate
There is no problem in formulating dietary supplements and other products without using magnesium stearate. The only drawback is that it will take more time, and will require specific and meticulous precautions. According to the FDA, magnesium stearate is a granulating agent. And the effect of magnesium stearate in the body is different from that of the naturally occurring fatty acid, stearic acid. For your understanding, the probable adverse effects of magnesium stearate are mentioned below.
While speaking about the side effects of magnesium stearate, a concerning issue is the source from which this magnesium salt is isolated. As per a survey conducted, the commonly used sources are palm oil and cottonseed oil (after hydrogenation). The process of hydrogenation produces altered products that are toxic for the body. Also, palm oil and cottonseed may contain hazardous pesticides.
Magnesium stearate in small amounts is safe. Nevertheless, in some companies, magnesium stearate is added in very high amounts for the smooth functioning of machinery and for mass production at a lesser time. Hence, every time you take a pill, you are ingesting higher amounts of magnesium stearate, which can cause unusual health effects.
One of the reported dangers of magnesium stearate is the decreased absorption of nutrients for health. Researchers opine that tablets without magnesium stearate have a 90 percent absorption rate, while those formulated with magnesium stearate show a 25 - 30 percent absorption capacity. This is the reason, some people complain of absorption problems after taking magnesium stearate containing products.
Excessive ingestion of magnesium stearate adversely affects the normal functioning of T-cells, which are very important for the body's immune responses. In other words, high amounts of magnesium stearate act as a immunosuppressor. Thus, prolonged administration of therapeutic formulation that contains magnesium stearate at a high dosage weakens the immune system over a period of time.
Other Health Issues
Inhalation of magnesium stearate powder and fumes causes severe inflammation of the respiratory system and asphyxia, particularly in those people who are hypersensitive to allergies. It is also suggested that acute consumption of this magnesium salt can lead to gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestine).
Apart from the health issues of ingesting magnesium stearate, one more argument is about the source of extraction; either vegetarian or non-vegetarian food. Hence, it is mandatory to mention the source of magnesium stearate (if used) in the labels. On a safety note, it is always better to purchase dietary and nutritional supplements from a reliable brand that has a good record.