Dietary Supplements: Cutting-Edge Capsules


Capsule options are satisfying today’s dietary supplement formulation-and consumer-needs.

When it comes to supplements, what’s on the outside can be just as important as what’s on the inside. New capsule systems are providing manufacturers and marketers more effective and economical means to customize supplements to the needs and desires of consumers. In addition, key capsule advances today serve to optimize the effectiveness of ingredients, making their delivery more palatable, cutting production time and costs, and enhancing brand differentiation.

Alternative Polymers

While gelatin has been around for hundreds of years, new low-moisture, non-animal polymers are gaining market share. In particular, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) is a polymer that provides benefits such as protection for moisture-sensitive ingredients and slower disintegration to protect acid-sensitive products.

Normal HPMC has 4 to 6% moisture content at 50% relative humidity (compared to a higher 12 to 14% moisture content for gelatin). Using HPMC, a low-water-activity capsule can be created with moisture content in the 2 to 3% range, keeping ingredients stable in the package and before ingestion.

Another new-formula HPMC slows disintegration so that most of a capsule’s contents open in the small intestine, and not in the stomach. The combination of protection against acid and a targeted release is ideal for ingredients such as probiotic and enzymes strains that may be susceptible to stomach acid. Our company research also shows that the slowed disintegration helps prevent bad aftertaste. And because the protection is in the capsule, it eliminates the need to apply protective coatings that add time and costs and that might damage ingredients due to heat, microbial contamination, or other factors. It is not an enteric capsule, but the capsule protects contents for at least 30 minutes in the stomach’s pH of 1.2, fully opening at an intestinal pH of 6.8.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are HPMC capsules available today that fully match the dissolution profile of gelatin-100% dissolved in 30 minutes or less, and they look exactly like gelatin as well. This provides a vegetarian alternative that is both colorful, demonstrates high performance on filling machines, and is appropriate for faster-acting ingredients-often important in the sports nutrition market.

Special Lifestyle or Cultural Considerations

Fish gelatin and vegetarian capsules have been popular choices to appeal to a market booming with health, dietary, lifestyle, and cultural requirements. Thanks to regulatory changes in Europe, it is now possible to directly label any product containing organic ingredients as an “organic supplement,” as long as it is encapsulated in HPMC capsules.

HPMC has been approved by the European Union as an encapsulation material for organic products since December 2007 (ECn°780/2006)1.

In the United States, organic supplement makers can use pullulan, a natural product, to encapsulate organic ingredients. As a water-soluble polysaccharide produced through a fermentation process, pullulan is a natural capsule material that is ideal for organic ingredients. Pullulan also offers the best oxygen barrier, which can eliminate pungent ingredient odors.

Liquid Delivery Forms

Fish oil has been a leading supplement for years, with soft gels as the primary delivery vehicle. But as krill oil becomes a rising star in the omega-3 category, hard gelatin capsules are now viewed as a key alternative to soft gels. Because krill oil contains the highest concentration of phospholipids, it can prove challenging for krill oil soft gels to remain leak-free over time. Hard gelatins, however, hold up. And because they are less permeable to oxygen, hard gelatin capsules successfully mask krill oil’s extremely pungent odor, without the need to add scent as a masking agent.

Combination multirelease products are also gaining interest, and one delivery option is beads in a liquid-fill capsule. The liquid dose is designed to offer quick release of an ingredient, while the beads provide for a controlled or delayed release of other ingredients. The beads can be floating in liquids, or beads or powders can be contained in an inner capsule suspended in an outer liquid-filled capsule. The thickness of the beads’ coating can be changed so that some beads dissolve as soon as the capsule ruptures, while other beads dissolve later.

Beads also offer interesting solutions to various scientific, technical, and visual problems that arise when ingredients are suspended in oil. When some water-soluble ingredients are combined with oils, the mixture can turn into an unattractive paste. In addition, some hygroscopic extracts can cause brittleness in gelatin capsule shells. By formulating the extract into a bead, the problem is mitigated.


Color has always been used to package and distinguish products on the shelf-and now, colors can also distinguish your capsule itself. The latest advance is the use of all-natural colors. These appeal to the growing number of consumers demanding natural lifestyle products, including food and cosmetics. Capsules are preservative-free, starch-free, gluten-free, and non-GMO. Now, using all-natural colors, “no artificial colors” can be added to product claims as well.

Natural ingredients are commonly used to create the initial color spectrum for these natural dyes. As examples, caramel is a brownish color produced through heat-treatment of corn syrup or sugar. Riboflavin is an orange-yellow compound in the vitamin B complex that naturally occurs in foods such as vegetables and milk. Pinks and reds can be created from the reddish colors carmine, derived from cochineal extract.

To add further product differentiation, these colors can be made opaque when combined with titanium dioxide, a naturally occurring mineral. The colors can also be given a pearlized effect when combined with all-natural Candurin pigment. Pearlized colors have proven quite successful in the nutricosmetic category, with special appeal to the natural cosmetic women’s market.

Forward Thinking

As a growing number of consumers embrace supplements, more of them will desire new ingredients with greater effectiveness, convenience, and pleasant taste. To meet their needs efficiently and cost effectively, manufacturers will be wise to keep abreast of the newest delivery forms that are best suited for the latest ingredients, combination of ingredients, or formulas. The above innovations are the latest advances-but by no means the last.

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