Many of us take vitamins and other supplements regularly in hope they will make us healthier and maybe to fill in gaps in less than perfect diets. But, the significant problem with the supplement industry is that many companies do not disclose toxic solvents used to process the vitamins they make. Of particular concern is a substance called hexane, generally used as an industrial-strength cleaner,  degreaser and a component in gasoline, but is also used in a variety of supplements and other natural food products to extract certain nutritional components.

Why is hexane dangerous?

According to the World Health Organization, a single exposure to hexane can cause vertigo, dizziness, and drowsiness. It is also a skin irritant. Long-term exposure may cause neuropathy, anorexia, and diminished reflexes. The FDA does not currently set a limit for hexane in most foods with the exception of hops and spices which are allowed to contain up to 25 ppm or 2.2% per weight. Since there is no specific limit set by the FDA, food manufacturers do not have to disclose the use of hexane in their products.

Most of the research on toxicity of hexane involves inhalation of the chemical. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets the limit of exposure to inhaled hexane to 50 ppm over an 8 hour work day. Over 50 common household products contain hexane, so for those of at home it is difficult to determine the amount of daily exposure.

Supplements that may contain hexane

Products containing soy meal, from infant formula to protein bars, have been discovered to contain hexane. Certain soy foods may contain up to 21 ppm, including products such as energy bars and veggie burgers. For soy products hexane is used as a chemical solvent in order help separate fat and protein. The fat is then turned into vegetable oil and the protein is made into protein bars, baby formula, and veggie burgers but with the hexane residue still in the food.

Fish oil and lycopene supplements may also be processed with hexane, therefore it is important to know how these supplements are made.

What supplements and vitamins are safe?

In order to reduce your risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals, it is vital to know where your supplements come from and what type of manufacturing practice the company uses. The manufacturer should be willing to disclose any chemical coatings or solvents that are used.

In choosing supplement it is best to research the company to understand their manufacturing practices. Avoid supplements made by pharmaceutical companies. Choose companies that use real, whole foods in their supplements and not synthetic vitamins. The vitamins or supplements should also be raw-based. Look for vitamins that are gluten-free, soy free, and do not contain any preservatives or artificial colors. You take vitamins and supplements to help improve your health, so do a little research to make sure you get the best quality product available.

Lessons learned:

  • Many vitamins and supplements are processed with a toxic chemical called hexane.
  • Hexane exposure can result in neuropathy, dizziness, and diminished reflexes.
  • Soy products, fish oil, and lycopene may all be processed with hexane.
  • Do your research before taking any supplements. Opt for raw products that do not contain allergens or preservatives.