Why use vegetarian capsules, like hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), over traditional gelatin capsules? There are several reasons, including allergies, gastrointestinal absorption and environmental concerns, but first let’s discuss some differences between vegetarian and gelatin capsules.
Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) capsules are made from plant material, typically the fibers of pine, spruce or poplar trees. HPMC capsules have a significantly lower moisture content (2-5%) than gelatin (12-15%), which means they are less brittle in colder weather and are at lower risk of deforming with warmer temperatures and humidity.
Gelatin is traditionally made by boiling down hoofs, bones, and connective tissue from bovine (cattle) and occasionally, porcine (pig), until it is a gel like substance. Gelatin’s moisture content allows for faster degradation of capsule contents, whether or not exposed to sunlight and major temperature and humidity changes.
Allergies to various meat proteins in our pets is another point to consider when choosing a capsule. The veterinary professionals who created Canna Companion hemp supplements have both clinical and personal experience with pets who live with food and/or environmental allergies.
Canna Companion’s veterinary technician, Lisa, had a dog named Zack Thomas who experienced both environmental and food allergies, including red meats, such as beef and venison. After these meats were eliminated from Zack Thomas’ diet, he continued to have dry, itchy and red skin on his belly and feet. Zack Thomas, who had many health problems was taking several specially compounded medications that were stored in gelatin capsules. It was discovered through a process of elimination his sensitivity to beef was so high the gelatin capsules were causing allergic skin. After all bovine was removed from Zack Thomas’ diet, including supplements and prescription medications his allergic skin improved.
It is important to understand gastrointestinal absorption and breakdown of HPMC vs gelatin capsules. HPMC capsule shells dissolve evenly and at the same rate across the whole shell. Gelatin capsules dissolve first from the shoulders, then later across the whole body. Powdered products filled in an HPMC capsule will completely dissolve earlier. HPMC capsules also should not pose problems with respect to drug absorption and bioavailability. If the contents of the stomach are at body temperature both capsules will dissolve at relatively the same rate. However, gelatin capsules will take longer to dissolve and will swell and gum up, if the stomach contents are cold.
We also need to consider environmental concerns with the use and production of gelatin. Cattle expel, via burp and flatulence, major amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. They produce significantly more methane than pigs, chickens or turkeys. The manure used to grow feed for cattle also releases methane. Nitrogen, from fertilizer runoff, can harm rivers, lakes and bays, causing oxygen-depleted zones called “dead zones”. The use of irrigation water can be a major issue, especially in the West where there are droughts, like currently in California.
Lastly, we understand gelatin capsules were not made from cattle specially raised for the purpose of making the capsules and the plant (trees or cotton) fibers used to create HPMC capsules was not specifically cut down or grown for that purpose. Both are made using excess parts. It is difficult to truly assess the energy required and environmental impact each may have when being created. Each type of capsule has it’s pro’s and con’s. However, we know the overall environmental impact of the abundant cattle being raised, no matter their intended purpose and use of the whole animal in various industries, is a serious problem for our planet.