Excipients: What are they and why Ayurvedic Excipients are Better?

The legendary writer/poet/artist, Khalil Gibran is quoted to have said “Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” These words resonate with the current state of the world and how we should be proceeding.

Science and technology have seen rapid growth since the 80s and continues to progress at a tremendous pace. Although the final destination seems unclear, it has usually been used for the betterment of mankind.  Be it the discovery of antibiotics or the invention of modern transportation systems, Science strives to make life easier for millions. However, the speed of progress is accompanied by recklessness.

Although most scientific progress is for the betterment of humankind, they also inadvertently damage human life or the quality of it.  A prime example is the medication that a large percent of the world depends on.

What are Excipients?

Most medicines have an active substance that confers it the disease eradicating/healing property. Additional substances, called Excipients are added to medicines for several reasons. They may:

  • Provide stabilization to the medicine,
  • Bulk the medicine or act as a Filler
  • Enhance medicinal properties like solubility

The word Excipient is derived from the Latin word “excipere” which means “to except”. Professionals describe Excipients as any component of medicines other than the active ingredient. The basic function of these substances is to add to the functionality of the medicine without interfering in the healing process. This allows Excipients to occupy various versatile roles which are illustrated below.

Infographic about Excipients

Although they are supposed to be inert, few Excipients actually are. According to recent studies, most of the activity exhibited by them are mild and can be safely ignored. However, some induce toxicity and other responses.

Ayurvedic/Natural Excipients

The scientific community has shifted its attention to Natural Excipients. As opposed to the commercial versions, Natural Excipients are found to exist in nature. Ayurvedic texts like the Charak Samhita Kalpasthana and Siddha Sthana is used as the base for understanding how Ayurveda employs natural Excipients in their herbal remedies. Ayurveda has been preparing personalized herbal formulations for patients since its inception. The concept of using naturally available ingredients to treat human ailments is the founding principle of Ayurveda. 

Ayurvedic formulations make use of Natural Excipients like gums, dried fruits, starch and lipids to enhance the healing property of the formulation. Substances like Honey, Gomutra, Long Pepper, etc. serve as Excipients.

Natural Excipients can be classified into various categories depending on their source of origin, chemical nature, purpose and use, etc. The Table below categorizes Excipients based on their use and nature.

CategoryExcipients Used in Ayurvedic Formulations
AdditivesSoft Paraffin, Beeswax, Starch and its derivatives. Agar, etc.
PreservativesSucrose, Sorbic Acid and its salts, Zinc Oxide, etc.
AntioxidantsAscorbic Acid, Gallic Acid, etc.
Coloring AgentsCarotene, Chlorophyll, Curcumin, etc.
Flavoring and Perfumery AgentsSucralose, Musk, Jasmine Oil, Rose Oil, etc.

The main reason as to why Natural Excipients are gaining so much attention is that when compared to Synthetic Excipients, they are safer to use, biodegradable, non-toxic, economically viable and easily available. The large costs generated during drug manufacturing are mostly attributed to Excipients. Hence Natural Excipients are an environmentally sound as well as economically viable alternative to their Synthetic counter-parts.

Much remains to be learned from Ayurvedic texts regarding the role and usage of Excipients. Yogvahi is a term mentioned in several Ayurvedic texts and it is used in a similar manner to modern-day Excipients. Black Pepper is one such Yogvahi used in the preparation of Trikatu. Similarly, several other Yogvahi or Excipients exist such as Dalchini, Mulethi, Gomutra, Ghee, turmeric, Pippali, etc. The addition of these components indirectly enhances the functionality and shelf life of the Ayurvedic cures and formulations without actually affecting the main active ingredients.

Commonly Used Ayurvedic Excipients

A few Ayurvedic Excipients and the formulations they are used in are mentioned below.

  • In the case of specific formulations, Ayurvedic texts recommend that they be taken along with additives known as Anupana and Sahapana. These additives generally act as carriers for the formulations and increase the absorption of the formulations into the human body.
  • Substances like Marich were used as diluents in the case of formulations where the dosage of the active ingredient was small. A common example of this usage is in the preparation of the Gauripasana formulation.
  • Ginger has been used since ancient times as a cure and as an additive. In a few Ayurvedic formulations, Ginger is used as a binding agent that keeps the formulation together while also enhancing the effects of the formulation.
  • Ayurvedic practitioners use Honey, Ghee and Mulethi as sweeteners and taste enhancers in several Ayurvedic formulations like Vishnukranta Kalka, Sitopaladi Churna, Pushpadhanva rasa, etc.
  • Dhanyak (Corriander) and Dalchini have also found use in Ayurvedic formulations. They provide flavor to the formulations and have been used in Yogarajguggulu, Saubhagyasunthipaka, Eladigutica, etc.
  • Vaidyars would also add herbal components that imparted color to the formulation. Turmeric and Henna are two commonly known plants that are capable of producing natural dyes and are used for the same.
  • Naturally occurring biomolecules like Alginic Acid (found in brown algae) and Cellulose (found in all green plants) also played key roles in Ayurvedic formulations. They served to bind the formulation together while also acting as a thickening agent, making the formulation more solid and easier to swallow.

In addition to the above-mentioned substances, a wide variety of plant, animal and mineral extracts are also used in Ayurveda as Excipients.

As Science progresses, we slowly learn and come to the same realizations as our ancestors; that the cure to all lies in Nature and oneself.

Reference 1: Natural Excipients- A Review

Reference 2: Pharmaceutical excipients – where do we begin?

Reference 3: Ayurvedic Natural Excipients: An Advance Option for Moder Medicaments


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