It’s relatively well known that many supplements have a limited absorption or bioavailability, meaning the amount of the supplement that actually reaches your bloodstream. This is due to a couple of factors. Most often, you hear about digestive processes in the stomach which can breakdown a supplement before it reaches the small intestine where absorption of nutrients occurs1. Additionally, a supplement can be eliminated by the kidneys whose role is to remove waste including medications and toxins. A variety of other factors can affect bioavailability, not only in supplements but also in the nutrient absorption from food.
Raw, cooked, fermented, soaked, crushed or chopped can all impact how the body extracts nutrients. Some foods perform best when eaten with other foods2. Some vitamins can partner and enhance each other’s bioavailability, such as calcium and vitamin D or iron and vitamin C. This is why you often find milk fortified with vitamin D, and recommendations for taking vitamin C when taking iron for a deficiency. Some vitamins are fat-soluble meaning they dissolve in fat (rather than water) and therefore are best absorbed by the body when eaten with fat. Some nutrients can inhibit (decrease) the absorption of another nutrient as is the case with zinc and iron3. And they do this in a couple of ways: 1) by binding to the nutrient and thereby creating a form that is not recognized by the intestinal uptake system 2) rendering the nutrient insoluble and therefore unable to be absorbed, or 3) competing for the same uptake system4. Even aspects of your individual body such as age, gender, and health can all have an impact on your ability to absorb nutrients. Bioavailability is a complex topic worthy of individual attention. Stay tuned for an article on bioavailability which we will link back here.
Luckily the emergence of new technology allows you to avoid obtaining a degree in nutrition and still reap the benefits of bioavailability. Enter liposomal technology. Discovered in 1964 by hematologists Alec Bangham and R.W. Horne5, liposomes mimic our own natural cell membranes (phospholipid bubbles with a bilayer structure). Biology refresher. Cell membranes have several functions: they provide protection for the contents of the cell as well as allowing nutrients to pass through and waste to be expelled. Liposomes are biocompatible when in the blood, like our body's cells would be. Additionally, these liposomal spheres are capable of carrying a cargo, protected by the outer lipid wall, of vitamins, drugs and nutraceuticals (supplements derived from food like amino acids, minerals, fatty acids, etcetera). Plus, liposomes can made with a targeted size, electrical charge, and surface for targeting optimal delivery of the encapsulated active ingredient to specific organs.
Numerous studies and research have demonstrated the effectiveness of liposomes at delivering encapsulated molecules directly into the cell. In a variety of studies, liposomes have shown effective for therapeutics including anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antibiotics, gene medicines and even vaccines6. In cell culture studies, liposomes can increase intracellular delivery 100-fold over non-liposomal delivery. So, why haven’t we all heard about this game changing liposomal technology?
Until recently, liposomes were strictly used parenterally (meaning non-orally) and administered by IV or injection with pharmaceuticals. With IV and injections, these amazing vehicles were able to bypass delivery issues associated with injecting compounds directly into our bloodstream - avoiding immunity responses and biological processes, waste removal by the kidneys for example, that would reduce the compounds reaching targeted areas of the body.
Couple this with an emergence of vitamin injections which can range from $75-150+ per shot. Keep in mind that these injections aren’t liposomal treatments, nor do they claim to be. But rather just the raw compounds, most often vitamin C or vitamin B-12. The popularity of such injections is on the rise largely due to celebrities, reality TV, and social media where the virtues of more energy, anti-aging, and glowing skin are proclaimed. And while, there is benefit to these treatments, how many average Americans can shell out the time and cash to reap the rewards?
In the early 70’s, liposomes began their emergence into oral delivery specifically with regards to insulin treatment (due to insulin’s low oral bioavailability)7 and later through Vitamin K18. Through trial and error, the addition of coatings and the modulation (adjustment of electrical charge) of the liposomal composition, these newly improved liposomal structures became more stable and durable in use. Meaning these little bad boys were able to hold up through the perilous GI journey and break through the trans-epithelial barrier (i.e. permeate membranes covering internal and external surfaces including skin, organ, and blood vessels). Where early liposomal structures had failed, these beefed up little superheroes were now able to succeed. The vitamin K study finally showed that liposomes were equivalent to IV treatment of K1. Liposomes also easily beat out regular oral supplementation. So, why isn’t everyone jumping on this new liposomal technology bandwagon you ask? Good question – they are starting to... sort of.
Technology doesn’t come cheap and producing truly effective liposomal products takes considerable care and development. Not all liposomes are equal and in this case: smaller is better - up to a point – too small and you don't have much contents for delivery. These small nanoparticle sized liposomes allow for a long circulation and half-life which equals more effective cellular delivery. And that’s not even comparing these liposomes to the average pill, powder, or liquid supplement. Note that not all of these new liposomal formulations are viable or stable, and some are complete BS simply using the word “liposomal” as a marketing ploy. How do we know? Because we’ve tested them. Yup, we’ve purchased and tested multiple competitor products within our labs, and some products don’t even contain actual liposomes. It’s like taking all the ingredients necessary to make liposomal products and blending them together and then putting them in a package. And while we won’t name names, we can say that the best bet in terms of purchasing a viable and stable real liposomal supplement is to purchase a liquid or gel product in high-grade air-tight packaging (tip: the cheap plastic bottles or capsules).
You may have noticed that Lipo Naturals doesn’t produce a million products. Rather we take care to produce remarkable products that work well in liposomal form. Our liposomes are sized specifically to target the liver for optimal uptake and re-release of the encapsulated molecule (presently, Vitamin C or Glutathione). In digestion, the liver receives blood from the digestive organs via the hepatic portal vein. Hepatocytes cells in the liver accept and filter the blood deciding what should be processed, stored, eliminated, or rereleased back into the blood. The human body doesn’t create vitamin C for example, we have to consume it. And yet, the liver synthesizes (or creates) vitamin C in many different animals. Our formulations have been developed with this adaptation in mind and seek to recreate this pattern so your body (specifically your liver) can release high amounts of vitamin C throughout the day. Our glutathione supplement results in boosted glutathione levels in your body using similar technology.
Just like the emergence and popularity of probiotics – keep an eye out for liposomal supplements coming to a local health food store near you. Just remember: buy the real stuff.
1 Digestion is a fascinating and complicated process that many of us don’t really understand. If you are interested in learning more there is an excellent series of short videos via Khan Academy that you can watch here.
3 Studies have shown that calcium can inhibit nonheme (derived from plants) iron absorption.