If you take supplements such as Vitamin E or fish oil, you've probably encountered soft gel capsules. Usually oblong and translucent, these capsules have an appealing look and a smooth finish that makes them easier to swallow. But what are they, exactly? What are the soft gel capsules made of, and what does it mean for you?
According to Capsugel, a major manufacturer of capsules, most soft gel capsules are made from gelatin. Gelatin is a substance that is derived from collagen, which in turn is extracted from animal skin and bones. Gelatin is a widely used food additive. You can find it in Jell-O, puddings, desserts, marshmallows, and many other food products. It dissolves safely in the stomach, releasing its contents within minutes. However, gelatin is not vegetarian, and may be unacceptable to those following strict kosher or halal diets.
Pullulan or Hypromellose
Pullulan and hypromellose are two non-animal-derived sources that are used as gelatin alternatives. Pullulan is a water-soluble polysaccharide; according to Capsugel, pullulan has received wide regulatory acceptance and has been in use for over 25 years. Hypromellose is made from raw cellulose, and is also used around the world. Gel capsules made from these materials contain no animal products, making them safe for vegetarians and those with restricted diets.
According to Natural Products Insider, gelatin or a vegetarian substitute is powdered, then mixed with water and glycerin to create a liquid that can be molded into capsule form. Flavor may also be added at this time. Capsugel describes soft gel capsules as being composed of a thick layer of gelatin, which has added plasticizers that help it to remain flexible without degrading. The "active ingredient"--the vitamin or nutrient advertized on the bottle--is pumped into the interior of the capsule after the gelatin coating is stable.
Color may be added to softgels, increasing their effectiveness and possibly their attractiveness. According to Natural Products Insider, opaque capsules protect their contents from light and UV radiation. This increases stability of the ingredient and decreases the formation of free radicals--all of which benefits you, because your medication remains effective for longer. Opaqueness can also keep oils from becoming rancid.