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Wed Dec 21, 2011, 09:56 PM

What’s All That Other Stuff In My Medicine?


"If you read enough supplement advertisements, like I do, you’ll often see the purity of a product is cited as one of its merits. It’s usually some phrase like:

Contains no binders! No fillers! No colours! No excipients! No starch! No gluten! No coatings! No flow agents!

It’s a point of pride for supplement manufacturers to advertise that their product contains nothing but the labelled ingredient. And that’s also seen as an important benefit to many that purchase supplements. The perception from many consumers (based on my personal experience) seems to be that products are inferior if they contain non-drug ingredients. By this measure, drug products are problematic. Pharmaceuticals all contain an array of binders, coatings, supplements and fillers. Even (gasp) artificial ingredients and sweeteners! And they’re often, though not always, disclosed on the package label.

But rather than being a negative feature, these supplementary, non-medicinal ingredients play a critical role in ensuring that drug products are of consistent and reproducible quality. Without them, we’d have products that are potentially unstable, we’d be unclear if they were actually being absorbed, and we wouldn’t know if they actually delivered any active ingredients into the body. In short, we’d be in the same situation we’re currently in with many herbal remedies and other types of supplements.

Standard pharmaceutical products are evaluated in both clinical trials (to measure efficacy) but also more basic tests – such as whether a drug that is ingested is actually absorbed into the bloodstream. A promising drug won’t work if it doesn’t reach the desired site of action. And to do that, we use a variety of tools and processes to ensure that a drug is reliably and predictably absorbed when we use it, whether by ingesting it, rubbing it on our skin, or injecting it. Excipients can be described as any components of a drug product that are not the “API”, the active pharmaceutical ingredient. Excipients serve to keep the API stable, help its absorption, and simplify the manufacturing process.They help ensure that products are consistent – batch to batch and bottle to bottle. Excipients also help improve consumer acceptance and usage.



An interesting read on something that pops up in conversation around here, now and then.

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