Magnesium stearate is a common additive among many supplements – be it vegetarian capsule, tablet, or lozenge. Over the years, people online have demonized magnesium stearate as a potential ‘harmful’ additive that has the ability to impact the immune system. Is there any validity to these types of claims circulating online about magnesium stearate?
Let’s explore what magnesium stearate is, how this negative perception came to be, and why it is generally regarded as safe in supplements as an additive.
What is Magnesium Stearate, and why is it in my supplements?
Magnesium stearate is commonly found in supplements during manufacture because it helps make certain ingredients (especially powders) flow more evenly and prevents them from sticking to machines or clumping during the production process.
It is created by a reaction of stearate – often derived from coconut oil or palm oil – with magnesium. The amount used in supplements is exceptionally small, with around ~1% being detectable in the final product of the total formulation.
In essence, magnesium stearate is a ‘salt’ that is formed when a magnesium ion is bonded with two stearate molecules (often derived from coconut or palm oil). Stearic acid is a saturated fat that is commonly found in plenty of different foods. It is found to be the only long-chain saturated fatty acid that doesn’t raise cholesterol LDL levels.
There is insufficient research and evidence to determine that magnesium stearate in these miniscule quantities could have any sort of negative effect.
Magnesium Stearate – Plant Based vs. Animal Derived
As an important aside, it should be noted that magnesium stearate can come from animal-based sources as well. Those who are strictly vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based will need to check the ingredient list of a product for “vegetable grade” or “vegetable magnesium stearate” to ensure it is derived from coconut oil or palm oil instead of animal fats.
While allergic reactions to a formulation containing magnesium stearate are always possible, they are exceptionally rare, and the more common negative feedback on magnesium stearate simply holds no weight in reality.
Debunking Magnesium Stearate and “Immune Suppression”
The huge ‘claim’ about magnesium stearate is that it is known to ‘suppress’ the immune system. This claim is entirely based on one study that showed immune cells from mice being damaged by large amounts of stearic acid – which damaged the cell membranes of T-lymphocytes. This study does not depict what happens internally for those ingesting or consuming normal amounts of stearic acid (which is present, by the way, in fats like coconut) let alone the absolutely minuscule amount present in magnesium stearate as an additive used in production.
This study has nothing to do with magnesium stearate to begin with (it is entirely based on stearic acid which is found in foods like coconut oil, chocolate and beef) and does not depict stearic acid used under normal conditions. Your cells are not dunked in a stearic acid solution, as is the case in this study.
Another important note is that compared to the mice used in the study, human T cells have “the ability to desaturate fatty acids.” This means that even in the hypothetical situation where your T cells and immune cells were dunked in an excess of static acid, they would still maintain membrane functionality.
Other claims, stating it contributes to “biofilm” growth would be inaccurate as well, as it appears as though stearic acid actually inhibits the formation and production of biofilms and is beneficial for those dealing with bacterial biofilms.
Ultimately, the amount of magnesium stearate present in supplements and pills is extremely safe and will provide no ill effect unless you have an allergy to it – of course, it also provides no added benefit nor does it provide any nutritional substance. If you would rather avoid it or avoid the use of fillers/binders in supplements, always keep an eye on the ingredient list.