Colored Gelatin Capsules

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


With such a crowded market place, getting a supplement to stand out from the shelves and convince people it is beneficial is difficult. 

One way to do this is with the use of colored capsules. Although there are some potential dangers.

This article is supported by 20 cited studies and references. 

Supplement Capsules for Bodybuilding

When shopping for fitness, dietary and bodybuilding supplements you may notice that some products are transparent capsules whereas others offer wild colors.

A colored gelatin capsule may seem more attractive to the customer, it may look more exciting and conjure up further images already being fed by the marketing machine.

However, there could be a hidden danger.

In this article, we shall look at the possible dangers of colored gelatin capsules, armed with this new knowledge it may help you make a more informed decision in the future.

In this article we shall cover the following areas:

  • Why capsules are used as a delivery method for supplements?
  • Gelatin capsule sizes
  • Capsule colors
  • Food coloring toxicity
  • What's the alternative?
  • Conclusion

Let's firstly understand why capsules are such a popular delivery method for supplements.

Gelatin Capsule Benefits

The humble gelatin capsule has a greater history than you may think.
Initially patented in France during the early to mid-1800s by two men.

One was a pharmacy student and the other a pharmacist. [1]

The idea and key points behind the development of capsules were simple. So simple it hasn't changed to this day.

  • Odorless
  • Easy to fill
  • Tasteless
  • Easy to swallow

It makes it much easier for the user to ingest the drug or vitamin. Being French, it was also elegant in design.

As time has marched on, we have also seen the development of the soft-gel capsule.

These a soft to touch and often contain liquids, a good example is a cod liver oil capsule.

The capsule used in Military Muscle is a hard shell which is the preferred option for dry powders and is almost always used for oral administration.

The majority of capsules are gelatin, although alternative materials are now available such as plant caps which is vegan-friendly.

Capsules are also very popular because of the manufacturing processes.

Capsules can be bought in small batches to be hand filled for minor clinical testing of products such as vitamins.

At the other end of the scale, large commercial facilities can produce and fill hundreds of thousands of capsules every hour reducing manufacturing costs.

That initial invention in Paris from 1834 by Gerard Dublanc and Francois Achille Barnabe Mothes has a huge importance for the health of the global population.

Capsule Sizes and Fill Weights

Capsule sizes have limits.

The largest which is categorized as '000' is almost 3 centimeters in length yet has a maximum capacity of around 1600mg.

However, that is an extremely large capsule.

More common are the '00' designations which have a capacity of anything from 600mg to 1100mg.

The potential issue here is that for a strong dose of any supplement or vitamin, you will need to take multiple capsules per day.

Therefore, some products will not lend themselves suitable for the capsules size and capacity available.

The User Perspective

For the user, capsules offer an easy and effective way to take any drugs, vitamins, or supplements.

They are smooth and come in a variety of sizes.

Unlike tablets, they are not chalky or susceptible to becoming lodged in your throat.

Additionally, because the content is inside the tasteless capsule there isn't any bitter taste of the product being in contact with the tongue or mouth as with tablets.

Furthermore, in the case of supplements. Capsules make dosing much easier and more accurate for the user.

Each capsule will have a certain amount inside, whereas trying to dose using powder and a scoop is much more difficult.

It can lead to overdosing, under-dosing, or just lots of waste.

However, should a person have trouble swallowing capsules, they can be opened up and either empty the contents on to a food or drink, but again, the dose is accurate.

Some may argue (and there's supporting evidence) that because the capsule can also be printed with different designs or colors it may make them more attractive to the user.

Although this can have consequences that we will visit later.

Timed Release Capsules

Yes, capsules can offer a greater degree of timed release.

This can be important, depending on the desired outcome.

If you need a very quick dose of a drug or vitamin, soluble products are better suited because they dissolve into a buffered solution that can be absorbed quickly by the gastrointestinal tract. [2]

This is suitable for pain relief medicines or isotonic soluble tablets that restore lost minerals, salts, and electrolytes.

How do timed-release capsules work?

On the other hand, capsules can offer more control. [3]

When they are ingested, the capsules must first break down, and then the content is processed.

Powdered content takes longer to be absorbed, this can be beneficial because certain nutrients cannot be stored by the body.

Why is this an issue?

If your body already has enough of a water-soluble vitamin such as vitamin C, any further that is ingested will be excreted and it will be wasted. [4]

By having a capsule with multi-phasic release rates, it will take longer for the nutrients to be absorbed and processed by the body, this way it will keep your nutrient levels topped up for longer and reduce elimination.

In a time-release study to monitor wastage of liquid versus capsules, it was found that liquids had a 5% greater wastage rate when compared to capsules. [5]

Capsule Colors

As we briefly touched upon earlier, capsules can come in a variety of colors and include markings, logos, and text on them.

This can be useful for identifying different products or just for marketing purposes.

After all, it could be argued that more people will associate a blue pill with Viagra from Pfizer than anything else.

This is a marketing triumph whereby the brand name of Viagra is synonymous with erectile dysfunction medicines.

Just like Hoover is associated with all vacuum cleaners.

In addition, a study that was published in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that 75% of people preferred red or pink-colored tablets than any other color. [6]

Further insight from a study published in 1996 that featured in the British Medical Journal also found that strong vibrant colors such as red, orange, and yellow-colored pills were associated with a perception of stimulant.

Whereas colors such as blue and green were perceived as being a tranquilizer.
More interestingly, not only did color affect the user perception of the drug, but it also appeared to have a placebo effect. [7]

These findings were further backed up by a study researching the effects of a drug based on its characteristics among a Chinese population that was published in 2017. [8]

The ELTE PPK Institute of Psychology based in Hungary has also recognized similar results regarding colors, branding, and characteristics which has provoked a debate regarding drug manufacturing called intelligent medicine designing. [9]

Now it becomes apparent why so many dietary supplements are wildly colored.

The color of the capsules you take may have a placebo effect on you and choosing the correct color for your product can help people associated with your product with a certain outcome.

However, there can be health complications relating to colored capsules...

Food Coloring Toxicity Risks with Capsules

Is food coloring toxic?

Not all food coloring's are toxic, however, various studies have established that some synthetic coloring and dyes present an element of toxicity which has led some countries to ban the use of them. [10]

The toxicology report found that the following food dye colors could cause allergic reactions and have severe toxic effects resulting in chromosomal changes, tumors while potentially affecting the fetus of an unborn child.

  • Patent Blue - E131
  • Quinoline Yellow - E104
  • Azorubine - E122
  • Ponceau - 4R-E124
  • Sunset Yellow - 110

Artificial Food Coloring

As far back as 1856 saw the discovery of the first synthetic dye.

A British man called Sir William Henry Perkin accidentally produced what is known as aniline purple when he was trying to synthesize a malaria treatment. [11]

He established that it was stable and had brilliant dyeing properties so he decided upon a business venture to manufacture it on a large scale.

This spawned the development of dyes and artificial coloring.

In fact, by 1900 many foods, drugs, and cosmetics in the USA had artificial colors.

Yet many contained toxic and poisonous materials.

This stimulated Congress to pass the Foods and Drugs act of 1906 to regulate what could and couldn't be used to color foods and drugs. [12]

While the FDA and other similar organizations around the world regulate additives and coloring, there is some disparity between what is considered safe and not.

A few examples are below, all are permitted by the FDA.

Tartrazine - FD&C Yellow No.5

There is a synthetic yellow coloring that does appear in many foods.

Tartrazine yellow can be blended with other colors such as brilliant blue or green to produce various shades.

However, tartrazine does have a few dangers.

As a result, tartrazine in food is not common anymore and in some cases is banned. [13]

Yet, it is still present in some pharmaceutical products and vitamins.

Tartrazine Effects

This particular food dye is allergic and can cause issues with those suffering from asthma. Other unwanted side effects may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Migraines
  • Itching
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Hot sensations
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of suffocation

It has been suggested that Yellow No.5 is not allowed in the food supply.

Brilliant Blue - FD&C No.1

This is still available for foods and drug coloring yet may cause adverse health effects. [14]

  • These may be:
  • Cancer
  • Malignant tumors
  • Hyperactivity
  • Asthma

Indigo Carmine - FD&C No.2

It has been noted that those suffering from irritable skin conditions have seen relief from avoiding medication or foods with Blue FD&C No.2. [15]

Further study into this coloring has prompted a cancer specialist by the name of Dr. William Lijinsky to declare that it is a carcinogen. [16]

Further studies concluded that it is not fit for human consumption.

Fast Green - FD&C No.3

This colorant is not as popular as many others but is still used for a variety of ingested drugs.

Clinical trials on fast green have raised concerns about tumors of the testes plus irritation to the skin, eyes, digestive tract, and respiratory tract. [17]

As a result, some regulatory bodies are not entirely convinced that it is safe.

Orange B

Rarely used any longer, still approved by the FDA but does hold some safety concerns. [18]

The FDA proposed a ban in the late 1970s but this was never finalized.

Citrus Red No.2

The National Library of Medicine recognizes that Citrus Red is carcinogenic to animals and possibly to humans. [19]

Research into Citrus Red No.2 has provoked a statement from the World Health Organization that it should not be used in food.

Erythrosine B - FD&C Red No.3

Initially approved in 1907 and used in many foods and oral drugs.

It has been found to be an animal carcinogen, however, industry-relevant sponsored studies have downplayed any safety concerns.

Even though In 1984 the FDA's acting commissioner declared Red No.3 as a great public health concern.

No doubt partly for the evidence demonstrating that it can damage the DNA structure. [20]

Allura Red - FD&C Red No.40

This is an extremely popular dye, with millions of kilograms being produced. [21]

In fact, Red No.40 is one of three dyes that account for 90% of the dyes used in foods throughout the USA. [22]

Yet, there's still evidence proving that there are safety concerns.

So much so that in the UK certain foods and drinks are colored using natural sources such as fruit extracts, whereas in the USA synthetic additives such as Red No.40 are being used.

Furthermore, in Europe as of 2010 warning labels must be visible on most food products that contain artificial additives and colorings. [23]

In humans, Red No.40 appears to cause hyperactivity and hypersensitivity reactions.

Sunset Yellow - FD&C Yellow No.6

This dye is popular for cosmetics, drugs, and condoms.

A study published in 2007 by researchers from Southampton University found a possible link between Sunset Yellow and hyperactivity amongst children. [24]

This prompted a voluntary withdrawal of the coloring from food manufacturing in the UK.

While there was a similar call by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to the FDA in the USA to follow suit, no changes were made.

What's the Alternative?

Natural food coloring agents. Or none at all.

The risk, you as consumer's face, is that in one particular country, some artificial food dyes may be banned but not in another country.

A good example is the differences between the US and the EU. [25]

As we mentioned earlier.

The same foods and beverages are produced using natural colors in the UK such as pumpkin or carrot extracts but then using synthetic artificial dyes in the USA.

This can be down to a number of reasons, but in the European Union, an applicant to use an additive needs to justify the need, its effectiveness, benefits, and how it does not mislead the consumer.

In contrast, in the United States, the application is based purely on a safety assessment.

Global Supplement Market

Clearly this can cause complications within a global dietary supplement market.

Some products that contain justified additives in one region may fall foul to border controls in another.

These complications are true for food exports but also drugs, vitamins, and other herbal supplements.

For instance, ashwagandha is by prescription only in Japan and Brazil, yet is available 'over the counter' in other regions of the world.

Military Muscle

Research into food additives and coloring is an issue up for much debate.

However, there are plenty of highlighted risks; risks we do not want our customers or ourselves to be exposed to.

That's why our capsules are completely transparent and free of dyes, we have also gone one step further and Military Muscle has ditched the gelatin and our capsules are now plant-based HPMC vegan capsules

There are plenty of nutritional supplements with brightly colored capsules which according to research do appeal to people and can have a placebo effect as previously discussed.

At Military Muscle, we do not need to rely on a placebo effect because our testosterone booster is packed with 11 clinically proven vegan-friendly ingredients to help stimulate muscle growth.

Additionally, because our capsules are transparent, you can see what's inside and that each capsule is packed with nutrients and not just filler.

We are not hiding anything. Nor do we want our customers to have any adverse reactions to our product.

Military Muscle Testosterone Booster is manufactured in an FDA and BRC Global Standards facility.

There are no artificial additives and no known allergens.

Safety is our main priority, and it is something many other manufacturers overlook in order to market their product and make it seem more attractive, or more potent.


Many drugs and supplements come in capsules that are colored.

In many pharmaceutical applications, this may be to identify particular drugs so it is easier for the patient and those who administrate them.

On the other hand, for supplements, colored capsules are merely a marketing exercise.

As the research suggests it can help people identify with a product (and its possible perceived outcome) and have a placebo effect.

It can also make them look more appealing.

However, it seems there are still many artificial dyes and colorants used in foods, pharmaceutical products, and supplements.

There is evidence that these synthetic dyes can cause harm to a person's health and well being.

Yet there are alternative natural dyes available that do not cause harm and may be beneficial which are currently being used for foods in the EU.

However, one issue is that there isn't any international cohesion nor a single viewpoint in regards to regulation and what is perceived as 'safe'.

As such, in a global market, of which supplements are part of, you can never be sure what artificial dyes are included in your supplement because different regulations may or may not allow them unless of course, you buy a product with transparent capsules.






















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