Recently I had someone ask about whether cellulose, and specifically the microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) that we use in some of our capsules, contains GMO. People often wonder about some of the lesser-known, inactive ingredients they see on product labels--and we welcome that. But first let's explain first why we use it at all.
Encapsulating herbs is not always easy. Many herbs contain sticky resins that tend to make the herbal powder particles clump together, and they can stick to machine parts and prevent them from operating. If you can't put these sticky herbs into capsules, you can't get them to people who need them. To get these sticky herbal powders to flow freely, you need to add other herbs that are not as sticky. Or, in some cases, you need to add an excipient (sometimes called a flow agent)-- an inert or inactive ingredient whose only job is to keep the herbal powder from sticking too much.
There are many excipients that are commonly used in the nutrition industry, including cellulose powder, microcrystalline cellulose, silica, magnesium stearate, stearic acid, and many others. Some are more effective as flow agents than others. Some are less healthy than others, too.
We deal mainly in herbs, and most herbs, like most other plants, are about 60-90% cellulose (also known as dietary fiber) by dry weight. So to me, cellullose seems like a good choice. But ordinary cellulose powder is not a very good flow agent, and it takes a lot of it to make up for a really sticky herb. But cellulose powder is also cheap, and some companies use it as a filler. We never do.
Microcrystalline cellulose, or MCC, is a specially prepared form of cellulose that is an excellent flow agent. It is more expensive than cellulose powder, but works much better, so we can use smaller amounts. It can also be used as a carrier for homeopathic formulas (we call this "homeoactive" formulation).
Both cellulose powder and microcrystalline cellulose are typically derived from wood pulp. The same is true of the vegan capsules we use for our products. Capsules are actually made of hypromellose, more commonly known as hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), a form of cellulose gel that dissolves rapidly in stomach acid.
Occasionally you will read a silly article complaining about cellulose powder as "undigestible wood pulp", and saying that humans lack the enzymes to digest cellulose. While technically true, this alarmist argument frames the wrong issue altogether. Whether from wood, cotton, or asparagus, ALL cellulose (in other words, "dietary fiber") is indigestible, but that doesn't mean it isn't an important part of your diet. Dietary fiber provides bulk, which allows the gut to absorb nutrients and eliminate wastes, performing a critical role in intestinal health.
Some of the best herbs in the world are "wood pulp", including both cinnamon and licorice root. In fact, being made of wood pulp is currently the best guarantee that these ingredients contain no genetically modified organisms (GMOs). To date, only one tree (papaya) has been genetically modified. All of the wood grown for the lumber industry, which is the best source of cellulose raw material, is still genetically unmodified.
For more information on these ingredients, see the following links: