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HPMC - Everything you need to know

If you look into our products, sooner or later you are bound to come across the word hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, or HPMC for short. But what does HPMC mean?

Table of contents:
  • What is HPMC
  • Use of HPMC
  • What else is HPMC used for
  • ? HPMC capsules for food supplements
  • HPMC capsules vs. gelatine capsules
  • Is HPMC vegan
  • ? Why take capsule products
  • ? How dangerous is HPMC?
  • Are HPMC capsules enteric-coated?

What is HPMC?

Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) is a cellulose derivative that is made from natural cellulose. During production, the structure is modified in such a way that the properties of the cellulose change, including its solubility. Cellulose is naturally insoluble in water. This is in contrast to HPMC. HPMC is able to bind liquids and form gels at higher temperatures. This property makes it particularly interesting for the food industry. Due to its versatile properties, it can be used in foods as an emulsifier, stabilizer, filler and gelling and thickening agent.

Note: Cellulose is actually an indigestible plant fiber and the main component of plant cell walls, which consists of chains of several hundred to ten thousand glucose molecules. However, the glucose it contains cannot be utilized by humans and is therefore indigestible.

Use of HPMC

In the EU, HPMC is known as a food additive under the number E 464 and is approved for all foods. HPMC is used, for example, in the production of desserts, ice cream, baked goods, cookies, various sauces, ketchup, mayonnaise and fish products. HPMC is also frequently used in light products to give them the creaminess that would otherwise come from the fat content. Another advantage in this context is that the calorific value of the food is not increased.

What else is HPMC used for?

In addition to its many uses in the food industry, HPMC is also used in many other areas. For example, in the building materials industry to regulate flow properties, in the production of cosmetics such as toothpaste, shampoo, soap, cream and lotion and in the pharmaceutical industry as a component of medicines.

HPMC capsules for food supplements

HPMC now plays an important role in vegan food supplements. HPMC is processed into vegetable capsule shells and tablets can also be coated with this substance. HPMC has been used for vegetarian and vegan food supplements since 1998 and is used all over the world. All our capsule products are also made from HPMC.

HPMC capsules vs. gelatine capsules

For a long time, the only material used to make capsule shells was gelatine. Gelatine is obtained from the skin and bones of various animal species, especially pigs and cattle. Due to strict regulations on the use of gelatine caused by emerging diseases such as TSE (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy), which includes BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), the search for a substitute for gelatine was encouraged.

Plant-based capsules have also been available on the market since 1998. With HPMC, consumers have a completely safe, plant-based product at their disposal, so that vegans or vegetarians and people who abstain from gelatine due to their religion also have an alternative to gelatine capsules.

HPMC capsules can withstand high temperatures and high humidity and have a low inherent moisture content. This makes the capsule shells suitable for storing moisture-sensitive ingredients. They therefore protect their contents from all kinds of fluctuations, such as temperature fluctuations and humidity. HPMC capsules can therefore be stored well in all climate zones. In contrast, gelatine capsule shells have a lower water content. They therefore quickly become brittle at low humidity.

Despite the many advantages of HPMC capsules, gelatine capsules are still the most commonly used type of capsule in the pharmaceutical industry. One reason for this is probably the lower price.

Is HPMC vegan?

As HPMC is a derivative of natural cellulose, HPMC is vegan. This means that people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or do not eat gelatine due to their religion can take HPMC capsules without hesitation.

Why take capsule products?

The advantage of capsule products is probably obvious: plant extracts, vitamins & minerals, amino acids or other micronutrients can be portioned according to need. The daily portion of a particular product can thus be easily achieved by specifying the number of capsules per day, without the hassle of weighing. In addition, the ingredients are packaged to protect them from light and, unlike powder or tablet products, are virtually tasteless.

How dangerous is HPMC?

HPMC is considered safe for human consumption. As HPMC is excreted undigested by the body like a water-soluble dietary fiber, it can be consumed without concern or restriction. Normally there is a so-called ADI value (acceptable daily intake) for the tolerability of food additives. This value indicates the daily dose that is considered medically safe for a lifelong daily intake. The ADI value is set by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). There is no restriction on the maximum quantity for HPMC, i.e. no ADI value.

A laxative effect may only occur if very high quantities are ingested.

Are HPMC capsules enteric-coated?

HPMC capsules are not enteric-coated, which means that they dissolve in the stomach and release the ingredients.

Although enteric-coated capsules can also be made from HPMC, they are also coated with synthetic substances that can withstand stomach acid. The idea behind such capsules is that they dissolve in the small or large intestine and release the ingredients there. This is useful if, for example, the acidic environment of the stomach would destroy the active ingredients. However, the intake of such capsules should always be discussed with the treating doctor, as the application must be carefully observed.

Al-Tabakha M. M. (2010) HPMC Capsules: Current Status and Future Prospects. J Pharm Pharmaceut Sci 13(3): 428-442. Prakash A. et al (2017) Are your capsules vegetarian or nonvegetarian: An ethical and scientific justification. Indian J Pharmacol. 49(5): 401-404.