When I visit health food stores I’m often shocked by the costs of supplements that contain generic ingredients.
For example, consider turmeric; it’s being studied for a host of supposed health-promoting qualities against diseases like cancer, arthritis and degenerative illness123. While there’s only preliminary evidence so far, turmeric and turmeric derivatives have already become very popular supplements. There are countless different forms of extract available, often delivered along with a purported potentiator like piperine.
But many supplement companies also offer unrefined turmeric powder in capsule form. For example:
- Swanson Premium Brand Turmeric Whole Root Powder, 240 x 720 mg, $15.49 ($40.66 per lb turmeric)
- Botanic Choice Turmeric, 450 x 500mg, $18.70 ($37.70 per lb turmeric)
- Kroeger Herb Turmeric, 100 x 450mg, $11.69 ($117.83 per lb turmeric)
These products offer regular-old powdered turmeric, the same form you might use as a cooking spice, in capsules. There’s nothing inherently unreasonable about that.
But turmeric is a commodity product and is extremely inexpensive. For example:
From this small sampling of products, buying turmeric in capsule form seems between 10 and 30 times more expensive than buying it in bulk. That seems a little excessive. Even if you consider the cost of the gelatin capsules (around $12 per 1000) the markup is astronomical. Turmeric is also very widely available in spice shops and Asian grocery stores. My local Indian grocery has it at prices rivaling anything I can find on the internet.
Filling your own supplements at home might sound daunting, but it’s actually really easy (and kind of zen once you get into it — at least, if you’re a supplement nerd like me).
All you need is your supplement ingredient, a supply of gelatin capsules (gelcaps) or vegetarian capsules (vcaps), a deep bowl or plastic container and (optionally, but very strongly recommended) a pair of latex gloves.
(There also exist various brands of capsule machines at the $15-$30 price point. Personally, I’ve never had much luck with them; I find that it takes just as long to fill the machine with empty capsules as it does to fill them by hand. Your mileage may vary.)
The process of filling the capsules is really simple. Pour a generous quantity of your chosen ingredient into a deep, preferably straight-sided container. If you’re using them, put on your latex gloves. (I can’t recommend them highly enough — not only do they make the whole process more hygienic, they also stop supplements like turmeric from staining your hands. I got 10 pairs for a dollar.)
Have a bowl of empty capsules ready. Each capsule consists of a long section and a short section. The short section fits snugly over the top of the long section and the friction keeps the capsule closed.
The basic method is to separate the capsule, push the long section down into your ingredient open side first, pull it back out then fit the short section back on. The action of pushing the long section into the turmeric fills it nicely. I like to push it down a couple of times to get a tighter pack. I find it helps to hold the capsule close to the open end in a pencil grip and push all three fingers down into the turmeric along with the capsule.
Here’s a short video that shows the whole process.
(Thanks to John, my dexterous hand model.)
It can be a little fiddly so it takes a few minutes to get the hang of it, but once you do you can rattle through an impressive stack of empty capsules in no time. It’s easy to do in front of a video or the TV. Once I get into the zone I actually find it kind of therapeutic.
I generally use size “00″ capsules which hold about 500mg. You can also get size “0″ capsules which hold about 50% more.
You can double check the size of your filled capsules by using a digital scale to compare the weight of 10 empty capsules with 10 full ones like so:
Each of my capsules holds about (5.4g – 0.7g) / 10 = 470mg. There’ll always be some minor variation between capsules and the results of this kind of weighing won’t be terribly accurate, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing this with any ingredient where a dose out by 25mg or 50mg in either direction could be dangerous.
Once I hit my rhythm it takes me about 4 seconds to fill one capsule. That’s about 15 per minute or 900 per hour. In other words, if you take, say, two capsules of a given supplement per day, you could rattle through well over a year’s supply in an hour. If you take 6 capsules a day, that’s still 5 months worth per hour.
900 capsules is about 450 grams. Conveniently, that’s almost exactly 1lb. So, assuming turmeric costs $4.00 per lb and 900 empty capsules cost about $11.00, how much does filling your own capsules actually save you?
The cheapest supplement I mentioned at the top of the post was $37.70 per pound so you’d save $22.70 (a healthy 60%) for an hour’s work. The most expensive ($117.83) would yield a saving of $102.83 (a startling 87%).
Turmeric just one example of a generic supplement that can offer this kind of saving — there are many, many more. In fact, one of the main benefits of filling your own supplements is the flexibility to customize capsules to your dietary needs, combining ingredients as you see fit. It’s also much easier to cater to your own preferences like organic, GMO free, dairy free etc.
From my perspective, the more control I have over the supplements I take the better. The fact that filling my own supplements can often save a lot of money is icing on the cake. If you take nutritional supplements regularly, you should really consider filling your own.