Cellulose & Methylcellulose: Can They Be Ruining Your Health? Part 1—Ingredients

By Catherine J. Frompovich

Ever since I completed my healthcare studies years ago, I have become more acutely aware of the role various unsuspecting ingredients in all types of edibles play in human physiology but, most of all, unknown allergic reactions, which often can lead to related health problems. I learned a human body can experience and display any one, or more, of about a thousand allergic-type reactions! Hives probably are the most common reactions one thinks of.

One area probably of least concern by consumers is ingredients in pharmaceuticals, vitamin and mineral supplements, other OTC health remedies and provisions, including nutritional products. Almost all of those health products have numerous unsuspicious-like ingredients which can produce various slight-to-serious health issues, including allergic reactions, depending upon various factors, e.g., frequency of ingesting the product; “purity” of each ingredient regarding herbicides, GMOs, and industrial chemicals; or an individual’s own hypersensitivity.

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All health-enhancing and nutritional edible products can contain one, or more, of the following manufacturing ingredients:

Acidulants are used only in liquid supplements to prevent bacteria from growing
Fruits and vegetables are sources of Acidulants

Binders: ingredients that bind things together in a tablet

Coating and Glazes are most likely gelatin, which makes it easier to swallow a capsule

Coloring and Flavoring
Food dyes traditionally are used
Sweeteners may also be used, i.e., xylitol, aspartame, saccharin or high fructose corn syrup

Disintegrants cause a tablet to break apart in the digestive tract where it can be absorbed

Fillers such as Hypoallergenic rice flour, Magnesium stearate (controversial), Oils

Flow Agents, which prevent sticking to machinery during manufacture and also lubricants, glidants (to improve flow ability) and anti-adherents

Natural antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E
Amino acids, e.g., cysteine and methionine
Citric acid or ascorbic acid
Artificial preservatives include parabens, benzoates, sorbates, sulfites and others

Then, there is a list of common excipients used in supplements.

Magnesium Stearate (flow agent, binder) has lubricating properties; FDA considers it GRAS
A 1990 study Molecular basis for the immunosuppressive action of stearic acid on T cells found stearic acid (not actual magnesium stearate) seemed to inhibit T-cells in laboratory mice. T-Cells are known as natural killer cells and are an important part of the immune system. There’s a possibility magnesium stearate could impede nutrient absorption. The vast majority of supplements (90% or more) contain magnesium stearate.

Resource: Dr. Joseph, DO https://healthline.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/23/whole-food-supplement-dangers.aspx

[Impeding nutrient absorption can lead to many digestive disturbances, especially if one suffers with Leaky Gut syndrome, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), gluten-grain intolerances or the glyphosate-residue syndrome in processed foods.]

Calcium Carbonate (filler, binder, coating agent)
It’s a natural product commonly found in shells of marine animals and egg shells. It is used in calcium supplements, for antacids and in toothpastes. It can be added to almond and soy milk to fortify nutritional content. It is used as a diluent and filler in tablets and capsules. Believe it or not, but too much calcium carbonate can become toxic!

Carrageenan (thickening agent)
It’s harvested from red sea weed and commonly found in ice cream and soy/almond/coconut milks. However, it can be contaminated from radiation disasters like Fukushima.

People who are allergic to MSG may also be sensitive to Carrageenan.

How A “Natural Food Additive” Is Making Us Sick / March 2013

34 page report
“Animal studies have repeatedly shown that food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors.”

Cellulose (binder, filler, coating)
Cellulose is made from the cell walls in green plants. As a binder, it holds tablets together. Used as a bulking agent, it has no calories. Plant cellulose is used in many dietary supplements.

I will discuss cellulose in greater detail later in this series.

Citric Acid / Ascorbic Acid (flavor enhancer, preservative)

Both are food additives, flavor enhancers and antioxidant preservatives.
Bacteria can grow in acidic environment thus its use as a preservative.
Both can make the body absorb certain minerals, e.g., calcium.
Citric acid has no Vitamin C.
Both can be derived from hidden GMO sources.

Gelatin (encapsulation coating, binder)
Gelatin is an animal protein made from bones of cows and pigs from which collagen is extracted.
Besides coating, it can be used to bind ingredients together.

Glycerin (preservative, sweetener, lubricant)
Glycerin, aka glycerol, is a sugar alcohol often found in herbal extract tinctures.
A mixture of water and glycerin is used to suspend active ingredients. It’s an alternative to ethanol. It has antimicrobial properties, which makes it a good preservative. It has a sweet flavor and low glycemic index. The amount used in supplements ought not to affect insulin levels.

Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) (lubricant, binder, controlled release)
It’s a semi-synthetic food additive.
In oral tablets, it is used to control the release of active ingredients.
It also can be used as a replacement for gluten in bread making.
It likewise is used in construction materials like adhesives.

Lanolin (diluent)
This is a wax-like agent derived from sheep’s wool. It is used to dilute products.
Vitamin D3 can also be derived from lanolin oil.

Palmitate (lubricant, preservative)
It’s a common fatty acid from the oils of palm trees.
It helps tablets press into shape and form.
Ascorbyl palmitate is a fat soluble form of Vitamin C.
Retynil palmitate is the ester of Vitamin A.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states consuming palmitic acid can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Potassium Sorbate (preservative)
It is used as a food preservative and is the potassium salt of sorbic acid.
It is used as an alternative to parabens in order to prevent the formation of unwanted microorganisms. Typically, it is created synthetically. However, excessive use can cause nausea and indigestion. Some people are allergic to it.

Silicon Dioxide (flow agent)
This helps prevent active ingredients from clumping together; it’s an ideal anti-caking agent.
It is the main chemical in sand and rocks. It is thought to pass through the body without doing anything. However, I would imagine it can be abrasive to tender intestinal linings.
It does not react with other supplement ingredients.

Stearic Acid (flow agent, lubricant)
It is found in many foods as a natural, saturated fatty acid – especially in vegetable oils, poultry, soybeans and chocolate. Even though it is a saturated fat, it does not appear that stearic acid causes cholesterol to rise. Statistically, the typical tablet is made of only 2% stearic acid. Nevertheless, the average tablet might contain 20 mg.

Titanium Dioxide (coloring)
It is used to give supplements a white coloring; it does not occur naturally in the food supply.
There is a possible risk to cancer.

Xylitol (sweetener)
Xylitol is extracted from birch trees, certain fruits and used as a sugar substitute.
It potentially is poisonous to pets.

Reference source for Common Excipients: http://blog.naturalhealthyconcepts.com/2014/07/01/excipients-in-supplements/
Natural Healthy Concepts

Some online health aid sources claim they sell “excipient-free” supplements. Check every product’s ingredient label in their line, as I have found in doing research for this series, that’s not the case and excipients are in many!

Drugs.com lists Inactive Ingredients alphabetically. Hundreds are listed along with this caveat from the Drugs.com website:

Patients may have allergic reactions or other adverse effects to inactive ingredients. If a patient has a known allergic reaction to an inactive ingredient, they should check for the ingredient in new prescription or over-the-counter medications or check with their pharmacist. Examples of inactive ingredients that are [sic] have been reported to cause reactions in some patients include: sulfites, benzoates, aspartame, saccharin, oleic acid, benzyl alcohol, lactose, soya lecithin, propylene glycol, and sorbitan trioleate. Patients who have allergic or adverse reactions to certain inactive ingredients may be able to use products that are color- or preservative-free.

Microcrystalline cellulose
Microcrystalline cellulose is a term for refined wood pulp and is used as a texturizer, an anti-caking agent, a fat substitute, an emulsifier, an extender, and a bulking agent in food production. The most common form is used in vitamin supplements or tablets. Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) is pure partially depolymerized cellulose synthesized from α-cellulose precursor.[4]

Approved within the European Union as a thickener, stabilizer or emulsifiers microcrystalline cellulose was granted the E number E460(i) with basic cellulose given the number E460.[3]

The MCC can be synthesized by different processes such as reactive extrusion, enzyme mediated, steam explosion and acid hydrolysis. The later process can be done using mineral acids such as H2SO4, [sulfuric acid] HCl [hydrochloric acid] and HBr [hydrobromic acid] as well as ionic liquids [salts not crystalizing at room temperature].

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcrystalline_cellulose

A Personal Caveat
Personally, I have found MCC and food-grade cellulose to be problematic insofar as creating digestive and bowel distress. I cannot tolerate anything containing MCC or other forms of cellulose—period! This search resulted in the healing of my digestive problems, since the very supplements I was taking were damaging my digestive tract and it was traceable to and confirmed that MCC and cellulose were the “culprits.”

I had to find a line of nutritional supplements that used safe cellulose and MCC, i.e., no GMO products and I had to question supplement makers about their sources.

Refined Wood Pulp
Refined wood pulp is not a normal human edible food, so various factors may/can be involved:

a. Rough to digest and eliminate or cause bowel frequency trying to rid the system
b. Herbicide residues impregnated during spraying of living tree or vegetation sources
c. Possible genetic modification of vegetation sources and resultant GMO farming protocols with glyphosate residues https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/photos/12-bizarre-examples-of-genetic-engineering/genetically

Integrative Holistic Health online discusses “DANGERS OF MICROCRYSTALLINE CELLULOSE, FILLER IN PHARMACEUTICALS” wherein this statement is made:

Our cells cannot stop the micro-nano particles from entering them, and once there, these particles, especially from cellulose from wood, which is what Microcrystalline Cellulose comes from, are not able to be absorbed, but float in and out of the cell membranes, and basically clog up tiny places in our bodies, bio-accumulating as we ingest more, and cause background inflammation to rise. Beware of ‘Cellulose’ as a filler in food products. If it comes from “A Vegetable Source” that is OK, if it does not specify, it means it came from, “Wood Pulp” Steer clear of any and all products that use Microcrystalline Cellulose whose source is not indicated.

[CJF emphasis]

Another online source, Drugs.com, talks about Microcrystalline Cellulose and states:

According to the Select Committee on GRAS Substances, microcrystalline cellulose is generally regarded as safe when used in normal quantities.

But here’s the rub:
If MCC is in every supplement or pharmaceutical a person is taking, that, undoubtedly, can lead to problems which may NOT be regarded as safe! Almost every nutritional supplement marketed has some form of MCC in it; read the ingredient label! Furthermore, refined wood pulp may, and can, lead to a laxative effect and/or dehydration problems.

Microcrystalline Cellulose is a connective agent added to prescription drugs, over the counter (OTC) medications, and dietary supplements. Microcrystalline Cellulose is also known as cellulose.

Minimal side effects may still be experienced when taking supplements with Microcrystalline Cellulose.

Microcrystalline Cellulose Side Effects
Microcrystalline Cellulose may cause mild side effects in certain individuals. You may find that you have to frequent the bathroom more often due to an increase in stool production. You may also experience gas and bloating.

Other reported side effects include depression, forgetfulness, lack of energy, and headaches. One woman determined her rash, irregular heartbeat, and loss of hair was due to an allergic reaction to Microcrystalline Cellulose.

Microcrystalline Cellulose Manufacturing
Microcrystalline Cellulose is a product of certain types of rubbery plants. The pulp, commonly known as wood pulp, is torn up and then dunked in hot mineral acid. All of the pollutants and chemicals are then removed in order to produce useable Microcrystalline Cellulose. That is debatable, in my opinion, as some residues probably remain thereby causing the side effects.

Microcrystalline Cellulose Manufacturers
Microcrystalline Cellulose is processed and distributed in the United States as well as China and India. The product is imported and exported to countries around the world.

Another Source of MCC
Non-wood Fibre Production of Microcrystalline Cellulose from Sorghum caudatum: Characterisation and Tableting Properties https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003160/

The microcrystalline cellulose, obtained from the stalk of Sorghum caudatum, obtained by sodium hydroxide delignification followed by sodium hypochlorite bleaching and acid hydrolysis was examined for its physicochemical and tableting properties in comparison with those of the well-known commercial microcrystalline cellulose grade, Avicel PH 101. The extraction yield of this microcrystalline cellulose, obtained from the stalk of Sorghum caudatum was approximately 19%.

[There are chemicals used in obtaining this source, which could leave residues in the MCC.]

Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) for industrial purposes is usually obtained from wood pulp and purified cotton linters. Each of these is a “natural” source, as cotton is a high value-added crop and wood pulp generally originates in some manner from deforestation. The need for environment friendly processes as well as the need to slow down the fast global deforestation has stimulated renewed interest in agro-fiber plants waste [3]. It is against this background that the stalk from Sorghum caudatum, which occur as huge agricultural waste in Nigeria, was investigated as a source for the production of microcrystalline cellulose. Alternative sources for MCC recently investigated include agricultural wastes and other plants parts not traditionally used for MCC production [49].

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003160/#CIT3

[Cotton is a genetically-modified crop in most countries.]

Sorghum caudatum, commonly known as guinea corn, is an annual plant of the grass family Gramineae. It is cultivated most extensively for human food as a rainy season crop in the seasonally dry African and Asian savanna zones, especially in West Africa and India.
Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003160/#CIT3

The GMO of Sorghum

Microcrystalline cellulose (Avicel, FMC Corporation) is prepared by acid hydrolysis of cellulose using 2 M hydrochloric acid at 105 °C for 15 min. The highly reactive amorphous regions selectively hydrolyze, releasing the crystallites, which are subsequently mechanically dispersed.
Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/microcrystalline-cellulose

Microcrystalline cellulose just may one of the unsuspected and hidden factors in digestive and gastro-intestinal health problems. MCC is in most nutritional supplements which, in my professional opinion, needs to be revisited, evaluated properly, and then adjusted for drastic reductions since most people take numerous pharmaceuticals and other supplementation containing MCC, which can be exacerbating their health problems—gut problems in particular, especially those who don’t get relief from known issues, i.e., leaky gut, gluten intolerance, etc., but still take meds and/or supplements seeking relief.

However, MCC also is found in nearly every off-the-supermarket-store-shelf, processed food and edible product—even organics! That will be discussed in depth in Part 2, Cellulose In Food.

Catherine J Frompovich (website) is a retired natural nutritionist who earned advanced degrees in Nutrition and Holistic Health Sciences, Certification in Orthomolecular Theory and Practice plus Paralegal Studies. Her work has been published in national and airline magazines since the early 1980s. Catherine authored numerous books on health issues along with co-authoring papers and monographs with physicians, nurses, and holistic healthcare professionals. She has been a consumer healthcare researcher 35 years and counting.

Catherine’s latest book, published October 4, 2013, is Vaccination Voodoo, What YOU Don’t Know About Vaccines, available on Amazon.com.

Her 2012 book A Cancer Answer, Holistic BREAST Cancer Management, A Guide to Effective & Non-Toxic Treatments, is available on Amazon.com and as a Kindle eBook.

Two of Catherine’s more recent books on Amazon.com are Our Chemical Lives And The Hijacking Of Our DNA, A Probe Into What’s Probably Making Us Sick (2009) and Lord, How Can I Make It Through Grieving My Loss, An Inspirational Guide Through the Grieving Process (2008)

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