Gelatin capsules, also known as soft gels, have an outer coating or shell containing the active ingredient and any filler. The interior ingredients must be in the form of a liquid, paste or suspension, which has small particles of the active ingredient suspended in liquid. The shell is made of gelatin, usually derived from beef or pork, along with water and a plasticizing agent such as glycerin to provide durability with flexibility. Gelatin capsules have advantages for both the drug and supplement manufacturer and the consumer.
Gelatin capsules are easily digested and dissolve within minutes of reaching the stomach, according to physician Ray Sahelian, who has a website devoted to natural supplements. This ensures that the medicine or supplement won't pass through the digestive system without being absorbed.
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Using soft gel capsules can increase the bioavailability of poorly absorbed or poorly soluble nutrients, according to the Natural Products Insider website. Through stabilizing, solubilizing or other techniques, manufacturers can enhance the effectiveness of nutrients such as coenzyme Q10, carotenoids and certain herbal extracts. Many of these methods are not possible with solid materials.
Unlike any other type of capsules, soft gelatin capsules are hermetically sealed and airtight, as noted by the Natural Products Insider website. This makes them tamper-evident, because any puncture on the surface would cause obvious damage. In addition, the sealed capsule protects the active ingredients from oxygen, a benefit especially important for substances that tend to become rancid, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil. If the capsule is opaque, it also protects the active ingredients from light, which deteriorates some substances.
Consuming the Capsule
Because they have a smooth texture, soft gelatin capsules are easier to swallow for some people than tablets, caplets and other capsules. They also hide the unpleasant taste and odors of substances such as fish oil, which can be disagreeable to take by the teaspoon.
Gelatin is generally harmless and safe to consume, according to Sahelian. It is commonly derived from pork or beef and provides a tiny amount of protein and amino acids. However, if an individual is allergic to beef or pork, or does not want to ingest it, he can easily empty the contents of the capsule, which will not contain any gelatin, and pour it into water or juice.