Softgels are still a desirable dosage format, and innovation continues to deliver high quality and effective dietary supplements. Highlights include clean-label carrageenan free vegan softgels and improved enteric release technology.
While there is a lot of discussion about gummies as a fast-growing and popular dosage format for dietary supplements, traditional dosage formats such as capsules are not going anywhere. They allow for highly complex and fills that make it possible for dietary ingredients to impart their benefits. Softgel capsules, in particular, are a popular dosage format for dietary supplements with a number of advantages for formulators.
“In softgel [capsules], the fill materials are really protected from oxygen,” explained Michael Baumann, global strategic marketing manager, dietary supplements, at IFF’s Pharma Solutions (New York City). This protects ingredients that are less stable and more susceptible to oxidation. Fish oils, for example, are a very popular fill for softgel capsules because they are prone to oxidation when exposed to air. Aesthetics is also a factor when using softgel capsules.
“[Softgel capsules are a] very elegant dosage form that you can achieve different aesthetics depending on your brand strategy,” said Benjamin Roscoe, application and innovation manager for IFF’s Pharma Solutions. “It's adaptable to different colors, you can take on different sizes and shapes. You can make them colorless and if you have a nice colored fill they can come through as looking almost like a gem or a crystal.”
While a tried-and-true method of delivering dietary ingredients, the industry is constantly improving itself and solving new problems. IFF, for example, launched during Vitafoods Europe 2023, a carrageenan-free softgel technology called Verdigel SC which is a ready-to-use pectin-based premix that only requires the addition of water and a plasticizer to produce high-performance softgels. This is particularly significant as IFF specializes in vegan softgel capsule technology, with carrageenan being a component of its successful SeaGel softgel technology.
“The utility of carrageenan is that its chemistry as a primary film former conveniently lends itself to the vegan softgel dosage form,” explained Roscoe. “Over the years, as we evaluated the other chemistries on the market, we found that there was a need for a carrageenan chemistry that worked very well. And that is why we developed SeaGel. It's a tailored chemistry that was made for the soft capsule application and through that it provides fantastic film forming properties. That lend itself to a wide variety of different soft capsule possibilities: very large capsules, those encapsulating very difficult, complex fill materials, even those with high viscosity.”
So, why carrageenan free?
“We kept hearing from our customers that they're looking for additional tools in their toolbox, additional options to formulate vegan softgels. And what we kept hearing is that they're looking for an additional option that is carrageenan free,” said Baumann. Having the ability to formulate “clean label” products is a big motivation for manufacturers as consumers actively avoid ingredients such as carrageenan.
On the other end of the spectrum, Gelita (Eberbach, Germany), which specializes in gelatin-based formulations also showcased new softgel capsule technology with its Gelita EC, an enteric release softgel capsule. According to Gelita, this new technology is easier and more cost effective than other enteric release options. According to Oliver Wolf, head of B2B marketing, global marketing and communication, for Gelita, enteric release capsules have to go through a two-step process in which the capsules are filled with the active ingredient, then have to go through a separate process to be coated. Sometimes, the coating process can take place at a completely different facility, Wolf explained. Gelita EC, in contrast, is already enteric. This means the capsule is able travel through the stomach, survive the acidic environment and be release in the intestine.
Enteric release can be beneficial for a number of fills, including fish oils in order to avoid the fishy burps often associated with those products, as well as probiotics. Live bacteria needs to survive the gut in order to populate the small intestine. Enteric release capsules can therefore greatly improve the effectiveness of ingredients like probiotics, which are immensely popular and only continue to grow as our understanding of the gut microbiome becomes more sophisticated.