What are Fillers?
A filler is used as a bulking agent or carrier to fill out a capsule or bulk up a skin cream or food item. Fillers are like the dietary supplement equivalent of candy – they fill you up but have no health benefits.
A cheaply priced dietary supplement generally means the supplement contains the minimum amount to make a claim that it has a health benefit, but otherwise contains fillers. Regulators put a minimum amount for well-known ingredients, e.g. omega 3 oils, in order to make a claim. But the filler ratio can vary from 10% to 90%.
Fillers are basically known in the industry as excipients – all products need them so that the essential ingredients remain in suspension until they reach your gut (where they need to separate to be absorbed). However, by increasing the amount of excipient from say 3% to 30% a company can save a lot of money on the expensive item – the plant bioactive. The consumer needs to carefully read the label to find out how much per capsule and do the maths, you want to buy as pure as possible.
What happens to excipients when you ingest them?
Too much excipient holds the bioactive component in suspension not only in the capsule but also all the way through your gut and into the toilet bowl, resulting in no benefit at all for you. For skincare, by adding lots of filler such as glycerin, the cream will feel soft on the skin and spread easily but will have minimal benefit to the cells below. Thus your skin will not change, and you will over time need to use more and more as your skin dehydrates.
Remember when you were young and did not have dry feeling skin, but then you needed to use moisturizers and the more you used the more you needed? This is because the natural barrier function of your skin becomes smothered by the fillers and damaged by over cleansing.
How to optimize your dietary supplements
For more cost effective benefit from dietary supplements, you are better to buy the quality products but use less of them. For instance, a quality probiotic you only need to take 1 every second day to get the benefit, whilst for a probiotic packed with fillers you could take 10 a day and have minimal effect (the fillers though are a great laxative). The same applies to skin creams, less is more.
Think of muesli bars, if you buy the cheap version packed with fillers you will need to eat several to obtain the same amount of nutrients as a quality bar, but you will also have consumed a large amount of sugar and other unnecessary ingredients which have blocked the absorption in your gut of any beneficial nutrients and interfere with your metabolism.