Liposomal Delivery and Absorption

image of a man studying a liquid formulaSupplements are only effective when your body can use their active ingredients. The standard oral pill, tablet, and capsule uses the body’s digestive system to break down its ingredients and transport them to wherever they are needed. This is how the body extracts nutrients from food, and while it works well for food, the destructive nature of the process leads to degradation of important parts of supplements. The digestive system destroys parts of the supplements before the body gets a chance to use them, and this can greatly limit their effectiveness. Two common methods of taking supplements which bypass the digestive system are intravenous (IV) therapy and suppositories, but these are too costly or inconvenient for many people. So, what we need is a cost effective and easy to use delivery system that can provide full absorption. The solution is liposomes.

What is a liposome?

The key to liposomal delivery is the liposome itself. A liposome is a circular cell-like object composed of an outer “shell” (which functions the same as our cell membranes) and an inner compartment which can carry supplements directly to parts of the body.

diagram of a phospholipid showing the head and tail partsThe outer and inner parts of a liposome are separated by and composed of phospholipids. Each phospholipid is made up of a circular “head” which likes water and a “tail” that does not. The heads are attracted to water while the tails try to avoid it, causing the phospholipids to arrange themselves in double layered lines where the heads are all outside, touching water, and the tails are “dry” in the inside they’ve created.

How do liposomes store and carry supplements?

diagram of a liposome with hydrophilic cargo Just like the head and tail parts of the phospholipids, different supplements are either attracted to (hydrophilic) or repelled by (hydrophobic) water. Hydrophilic supplements are stored within the innermost part of the liposome where there is liquid, protected until they reach their destination in the body. Hydrophobic supplements, on the other hand are stored within the phospholipid bilayer in the inner section the tails create. As long as the liposome stays whole, both types of supplements will stay safe from being broken down or absorbed until they are delivered to the proper cells.
diagram of a liposome with hydrophobic cargo
Liposomes are not the only way supplements have been encapsulated to try and increase absorption and decrease loss of supplements within the body. But no other method has proven as effective as liposomes. For example, encapsulating supplements with single layer membranes instead of phospholipids doesn’t protect the supplements at all: they are immediately absorbed wherever they enter, making it impossible to target specific parts of the body.

So how does this increase effectiveness?

Traditionally supplements are taken orally via a pill, tablet, or capsule of some sort. These are broken down by the digestive system into nutrients the body can use, but the digestive process itself ends up destroying parts of the supplement. Nutrients broken down by the digestive system must then be transported from the intestines to the part of the body that they are needed. This takes time and uses energy. The entire process ends up making oral supplementation the least effective method of all delivery systems but the convenience of taking something orally has kept other methods from becoming more popular.

More effective means of taking supplements include suppositories and intravenous therapy (IV). Both of these are highly effective because they can bypass the digestive system entirely and provide absorption ready nutrients directly to the blood stream. The downside to these methods is that they are either inconvenient or uncomfortable for people to use. Many people do not have the time or funds to use suppositories or have their supplements injected. The ideal solution is a method that is as (or more) effective than suppositories and IVs but as convenient as oral supplements. Liposomal delivery is the best of both worlds.

Liposomes do not need to be digested but can be taken orally. They absorb directly into the body when swallowed and are then transported to wherever they are needed. Once there they fuse with the cells of the body, releasing the supplements they contain exactly where they are needed and nourishing the cell membranes with the phospholipids.
diagram of the start of fusion between a  liposome and human cell
diagram of the fusion process as a liposome combines with a human cell and releases its contents inside

Are all liposomal products the same? How can I choose which is best for me?

Not all liposomes are equally effective. The size of each liposome, the ingredients the lipids are made out of, and how they interact with the supplement being used can all effect the finished liposome’s stability and ability to deliver its cargo to the body.

The smaller a liposome is the easier it is for it to merge with our cells and deliver the entirety of its cargo. The most effective liposomes are sized between 50-120 nm (nanometers). The phospholipids they are made of can be sourced from entirely synthetic sources, semi-synthetic sources, or completely natural sources. Most brands use plant sourced lipids from soybean or sunflower lecithin, and these are the most stable and beneficial for the body. Sunflower lecithin is the preferred source for many consumers because it lacks the allergen potential and side effects associated with soy.

Some liposomal formulas use solvents to help maintain the stability and freshness of the formulas. The most commonly used solvents are water or ethanol. Ethanol is its solvent form is safe for consumption and does not cause any effects or symptoms associated with alcohol, though some people still choose to avoid it. The need for solvents comes from a common way of producing liposomes using heat. Heat is a damaging force and in order to maintain stability of the liposomes, solvents must be added when this heat is used to create a liposomal product. The only method of production that entirely bypasses the need for chemicals or solvents is for the formula to be cold pressed. Cold pressing, as the name implies, uses no heat and therefore doesn’t require any additional ingredients.

Every person’s body is different, so which liposomal products will work the best varies from person to person. Look for the ingredients of each product to determine which will fit your preferences and body the best. And if you don’t know where to start, one of our health consultants would be happy to help you!

By Samantha Dillon, DR Vitamin Solutions