Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Will My Supplement Tablets Dissolve?

Dear Dr. Walt,

Is it okay to buy supplements as tablets? I’ve heard that tablets may go through our system without dissolving. Is there any way to know whether tablets will properly dissolve?

—Curious in New Mexico

Dear Inquirer,

I turned to my friends, the experts at ConsumerLab.com to see if they could help with your question. They say: “Although you are unlikely to have disintegration issues with regular softgels and capsules, ConsumerLab.com has found issues with some enteric-coated (delayed-release) capsules and softgels.”

Also, although tablets should disintegrate in a short period of time in your stomach, not all do. In their testing of products they have found that about 5% of products sold as tablets don’t disintegrate as fast as they should, and some fail to disintegrate at all.

So how do you know if the tablet you are taking is among those that don’t dissolve properly?

One option is to see if your product was tested by ConsumerLab.com.

It’s a subscription site, but many public libraries have or can get access for you.

But also, you could try ConsumerLab.com’s Home Test for tablet disintegration, which, while not foolproof, can provide some helpful information.

The CL Home Test:

  1. Heat a cup of water in a heat-safe cup on the hot-plate portion of a coffee machine to 98.6º F (body temperature). For a quick check of the temperature, use an instant-read thermometer, and don’t allow it to rest on the bottom of the cup where heat is most intense, giving a false reading.
  2. Place a pill in the cup, then stir continuously for 30 seconds, without hitting the pill. Regular tablets should disintegrate within 30 minutes

Note: This test may not work with “timed-release,” “sustained-release,” or “chewable” products.

Although this test isn’t as rigorous as a laboratory test (which uses special equipment and controlled conditions), it is more accurate than simply dropping the supplement into cold water.