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Tablets vs. Capsules: Which One Is Right For Your Supplement Brand?

Tablets vs. Capsules: Which One is Right for Your Supplement Brand?

As an aspiring dietary supplement brand owner, you might be comparing tablets vs. capsules as the dose form for your product. Aside from the obvious physical differences, there are 3 key considerations you must account for when it comes to these two tried and true delivery methods:

  1. Consumer Preference
  2. Digestion & Absorption
  3. Nutraceutical Dosage

After reading this article, you should be able to identify the key differences between tablets and capsules. I've also included some of the most frequently asked questions and answers about capsules and tablets so you can make an informed decision as to what dose form to choose for your product. 

What is a Tablet?

Tablets are the most common type of nutrient delivery form for dietary supplements. They have a long history of safety, and are an effective way to deliver vitamins, minerals and other nutraceuticals.

Tablets are made by compressing one or more powdered active ingredients to form a hard, solid, smooth-coated pill that breaks down in the digestive tract. In most cases, tablets also contain inactive ingredients or excipients whose purpose it is to bind all of the ingredients in the tablet together. Excipients may also be used to improve other characteristics of the tablet, such as disintegration time, appearance or even taste/flavor (in the case of chewable tablets).

Of the different dietary supplement delivery forms, tablets are most malleable in appearance. They can be round, oblong, or disc-shaped. When oblong, there are typically called caplets, the shape of which tends to be easier to swallow. Color coatings can also be used to change the tablets appearance, and special coating that prevents them from breaking down in the stomach and only dissolve after entering the small intestine, when this is desirable.

What is a Capsule?

Two-piece, hard-shelled capsules are another popular delivery form for dietary supplements. These capsules can be filled with dry, powdered ingredients or miniature pellets. Capsules are made in two halves: a smaller-diameter body that is filled and then sealed using a larger-diameter cap. There are two fundamental types of capsules: gelatin and vegetarian or veggie.  The gelatin for gelatin capsules is obtained through the processing of collagen found in the connective tissues and bones of beef (bovine) and pork (porcine). Veggie caps are made up of cellulose, an important structural component in plants. To be more specific, the main ingredient of vegetarian capsule is hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC).

What is the Difference Between Tablets and Capsules?

Gelatin capsules are available in a limited number of fixed sizes, whereas tablets are available in an extensive number of shapes and sizes. Consequently, there may be times where a single serving of a given product might fit in one tablet, but require two capsules to provide the same ingredients. That being said, capsules require less excipients (such as binders), which is appealing to many consumers.

Do Consumers Prefer Taking Capsules or Tablets?

The first criteria to consider is consumer preference - and when it comes to comparing capsules vs. tablets, there's a clear-cut winner in the eyes of the public.

Capsugel, a capsule provider, commissioned a study [i] completed by the Povlin Research Group in 1997 to look at the preferences among consumers for dosage forms of herbals and vitamins. A total of 400 herbal users and 300 vitamin users were interviewed. Relevant results were that:

  • 74% of herbal users expressed preference for two-piece capsules.
  • Vitamin users preferred the two-piece capsule over a tablet by a 2-to-1 margin.
  • Ease-of-swallowing was the dominant reason (66%) for preferring capsules over tablets.

Capsugel commissioned two other studies [ii] to examine consumer preferences regarding dietary supplement and mediation delivery forms. The first study was conducted in 2002 and was followed by a duplicate study completed in 2009, which provided insight as changes in consumer habits. More than 750 consumers in 25 major U.S. markets were asked what they used, what they preferred, and what they were willing to pay more for. The findings were:

  • While tablets are still a major solid oral dosage form used by consumers, capsules and liquid-filled gels are nearly as predominant.
  • Consumer preference for liquid-filled, gelcoats and capsules has significantly exceeded the preference for tablets, a major change from 2002.
  • Consumers still cite ease of swallowing as the most important attribute with speed of action and gentleness on the stomach increasing in importance.
  • The top attribute “easy to swallow” is still closely linked to capsules.

Tablets vs. Capsules - difference between tablets and capsules explained - infographic

Aside from Capsugel sponsored research, other studies have also been conducted revealing the following:

  • A study [iii] examining solid dosage forms used in psychiatric practice in England found that capsules were consumed more consistently than tablets, and patients were more consistent in requesting continuation of medication and felt that capsules of the same medication had a greater positive effect.
  • In a study [iv] evaluating the dosage form preferred for medication by 1,000 patients, results were 54% chose capsules, while only 13% preferred tablets.
  • Another study [v] with several hundred patients in Copenhagen hospitals found that 66% preferred capsules, while 22% preferred tablets.

TAKEAWAY: The evidence clearly suggests that consumers prefer capsules over tablets.

Are Capsules More Easily Digested and Absorbed Than Tablets?

The next question you have to ask yourself is whether capsules are more easily digested and absorbed that tablets.

Actually, if properly formulated they should both be roughly equal. This was demonstrated in one recent study [vi] where healthy male subjects consumed choline alfoscerate tablets or choline alfoscerate softgel capsules. The results were that both dosage forms had roughly the same level of absorption.

Similar results were seen in a study [vii] in which tablets and capsules were used for medication. However, another study [viii] on a medication found that capsules had the best overall bio-availability compared to tablets.

Yet another study [ix] on a combination of micro-nutrients showed contradictory results (depending upon the nutrient) for absorption between tablets and softgel capsules. 

TAKEAWAY: It seems that both tablets and capsules have good digestion and absorption. An exception, however, is with people who have impaired gastric pH conditions. For those people, capsules may be easier to digest [x].

Does Size Matter When It Comes to Capsules vs. Tablets?

Let's say you have a product requiring a 1,000 mg dose of a given nutraceutical, and let’s say that you want that 1,000 mg to be in a single tablet or capsule. That amount would be typically be difficult, if not impossible, to fit in a single 00 size capsule - which is about the largest size capsule most people would be comfortable swallowing. In this case, it would make sense to use a tablet as a delivery form, since 1,000 mg would be easy to fit in a single tablet, and there are a variety of punches for tablet shape and size to accommodate a finished tablet that wouldn’t be too large to swallow. Conversely, it would require two capsules to provide the same dose.

How Do You Decide Which Ingredient Combination Goes into a Tablet or Capsule?

As a general rule of thumb, go with capsules whenever possible since consumers prefer capsules over tablets. However, as discussed in the previous paragraph, you can generally reduce the serving size through the use of tablets (e.g. 1 tablet vs. 2 capsules), so this fact may come into play when you don’t want the serving size to consist of multiple capsules. Also, it is easier to create a time-released or sustained-release product when using tablets.

TAKEAWAY: Tablets have the advantage of being able to accommodate a larger overall dose of one or more nutraceuticals per pill than capsules.

Conclusion: Are Capsules Better Than Tablets?

If you didn't cheat and read the entire article, you've learned that:

  1. Consumers tend to prefer taking capsules over tablets.
  2. Both capsules and tablets have good digestion and absorption rates.
  3. Tablets can accommodate a larger overall dose per pill than capsules.

So, which one is better - capsules or tablets?

From my perspective, since consumers tend to prefer capsules, I would recommend that when either a tablet or capsule can be used for a product, go with the capsule. If, however, you need to fit a lot of material in a single pill, then choosing a tablet as your delivery method is the way to go.

So, which dose form will you choose for your product - tablets or capsules? Let us know in the comments section below!

Frequently Asked Questions About Tablets

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about tablets and tablet manufacturing that we've received from aspiring dietary supplement brand owners.

Q: Why is enteric coating more commonly used on tablets than capsules?

A: Because of the materials used during the enteric coating process, a hazy film or residue is apparent on the finished pill. When this coating is applied to capsules, it creates an unpleasant haze that you or your customers may find to be odd.

Q: Why are some tablet products packaged in glass bottles?

A: Glass bottles are ideal for either marketing purposes or to serve as a protective barrier. In some cases, a plastic bottle can implode and ruin a product's appearance. 

Q: Why do some tablets have a line down the middle?

A: The line you might find on some tablets is called a Score. The purpose of the score is to allow the tablet to be broken in half if the dosage calls for it. If your product does not have a score, you may want to advise your customers not to break the tablet in half without consulting with you, the brand, or their physician first. In some cases (i.e. the tablet is a slow release formula), breaking the tablet in half could be hazardous.

Check out our Tablet Manufacturing FAQ page for more questions and answers about this topic.

Frequently Asked Questions About Capsules

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about capsules and capsule manufacturing that we've received from aspiring dietary supplement brand owners.

Q: If capsules are so popular, why aren't all pills in capsule form?

A: Space is typically the reason for this. Because there is a limited amount of space in a capsule, larger formulations sometimes are more practical in a tablet. Calcium is a perfect example of this.

Q: Why do some capsules have such a strong odor?

A: Some ingredients used in your formulation make an unpleasant or strong odor unavoidable.  Make sure you speak to your contract supplement manufacturer about your formulation ahead of time if this is something that concerns you.

Q: Why does capsule weight vary by product?

A: Certain ingredients have different densities, and by mixing these ingredients into a formula, it creates a unique capsule weight based on the finished blend density and what can fit into a capsule.

References:

[i] Povlin Study. United States 700 consumers; 1997

[ii Study of Consumer Preferences: Sold Oral Dosage Forms. Capsugel; 2009: 16 pgs.

[iii] Hussain MZ. Effect of shape of medication in treatment of anxiety states. British Journal of Psychiatry. 1972;120(558):507-9.

[iv] Overgaard ABA, et al. Patients’ evaluation of shape, size and colour of solid dosage forms. Pharmacy World & Science; Oct. 2001;23(5):185-8.

[v] Kaplan MR, et al. A preference study: calcium acetate tablets versus gelcaps in hemodialysis patients. Nephrology Nursing Journal. Jul 2002;4:636-5.

[vi] Min MH, et al. Formulation and bioequivalence studies of choline alfoscerate tablet comparing with soft gelatin capsule in healthy male volunteers. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2019 Apr 5;13:1049-1058.

[vii] Seng Yue C, et al. When Bioequivalence in Healthy Volunteers May not Translate to Bioequivalence in Patients: Differential Effects of Increased Gastric pH on the Pharmacokinetics of Levothyroxine Capsules and Tablets. J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2015;18(5):844-55.

[viii] Manitpisitkul P, et al. Bioavailability and Pharmacokinetics of TRPV1 Antagonist Mavatrep (JNJ-39439335) Tablet and Capsule Formulations in Healthy Men: Two Open-Label, Crossover, Single-Dose Phase 1 Studies. Clin Pharmacol Drug Dev. 2018 Sep;7(7):699-711.

[ix] Johnson EJ, et al. Bioavailability of AREDS1 micronutrients from softgel capsules and tablets: a pilot study. Mol Vis. 2014 Sep 11;20:1228-42.

[x] Seng Yue C, et al. When Bioequivalence in Healthy Volunteers May not Translate to Bioequivalence in Patients: Differential Effects of Increased Gastric pH on the Pharmacokinetics of Levothyroxine Capsules and Tablets. J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2015;18(5):844-55.

December 16th, 2019

About the Author:

 
Gene Bruno

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG) - Mr. Bruno possesses 40 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a Master's degree in nutrition and a second Master's degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Corporation and Professor of Nutraceutical Science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.