Supplements explained & why we need them
Food supplementation is the consumption of nutrients in a concentrated, dose form [1,2]. A dose form indicates the measured dose of a nutrient in the form of tablets, syrups or capsules. Supplements are consumed outside of our regular diets.
As we mentioned in our ‘Why Do We Need Food Supplements?‘ blog, our bodies cannot synthesize a lot of the essential nutrients we need. Ageing, disease, heavy physical activity and improper and imbalanced diets lead to deficiencies. Food supplementation is thus, an essential for a majority of the world’s population.
The available forms of food supplements
One way to categorize food supplements is based on the type of active ingredient. This type of categorization results in proteins, vitamins and minerals categories.
Another form of categorization is according to the source of the ingredients. We can then, therefore, classify food supplements in the following manner:
1. Natural food supplements
Ingredients under this supplement category come from plant, animal or microbial sources. These natural extracts are then packaged in their unmodified form. PlantaCorp’s line of natural ingredient products include liposomal curcumin, bovine collagen and resveratrol.
2. Semi-synthetic food supplements
Semi-synthetic supplements are typically derived from natural sources but are then chemically modified. The modification of ingredients is necessary, in some cases, in order to allow the body to process the ingredients. A biologically active or biologically available form of active ingredients is thus obtained.
Modifying fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin K or Vitamin A, so that they become water-soluble, is an example .
3. Synthetic food supplements
A synthetic supplement is one that contains a wholly artificial ingredient. This is beneficial in cases where the natural source may be scarce or unavailable. For example, most of our B vitamins are chemically synthesized.
Disadvantages of current food supplements
Widely consumed supplements are typically known as “traditional” food supplements. The manufacturing process uses well-established and/or traditional technologies. These supplements have the goal of complementing or completing your daily nutrient intake.
However, the majority of current food supplements do not deliver their full dose. This is true for healthy individuals as well.
Why traditional food supplements can’t deliver their full dose
Current food supplements typically contain higher than the daily required dose of a nutrient. However, the human body can only absorb a limited amount of every nutrient. Our bodies eliminate the rest of the unabsorbed nutrients through urine or feces.
Another reason for the inefficacy of some food supplements is their destruction. Many unprotected nutrients are easily destroyed by the enzymes in saliva or by our stomach acid. This happens even before absorption by the intestine and delivery into the bloodstream.
The third reason for their inefficacy is that many nutrients are poorly water-soluble. To be transported from the intestine to other parts of the body, nutrients must be soluble in water. Alternately, they require a carrier protein or fat to be able to delivered to their site of action.
Liposome-encapsulated food supplements
Typical phospholipid and liposome structure
An emerging trend in the market are liposomal supplements. Liposomes are man-made, phospholipid bilayer spheres.
A phospholipid molecule, like a fat molecule, is comprised of two hydrophobic (water-repelling) lipid tails. However, they also contain a hydrophilic (water-loving) phospho head. When arranged as a bilayer (two layers) sphere, the liposome is water-soluble. In such an arrangement, the phospho heads face outside and the lipids face each other.
Our body’s cell membranes are naturally made of phospholipid bilayers. In order to make phospholipids into liposomes outside of the body though, we need to provide energy to the system. This is why liposomes are man-made.
Encapsulation of nutrients in a liposome
Liposomes are able to encapsulate both water-soluble and fat-soluble active substances within the sphere. This is thanks to having an aqueous (water) core and a lipid bilayer surrounding it. Once encapsulated, they can deliver an active ingredient safely to the bloodstream .
The advantages of liposomal food supplements compared to traditional food supplements
The protection of the active ingredient ensures that it can safely cross biological barriers. The acidic environment of the stomach is thus surpassed.
Further, fat-soluble nutrients such as curcumin, are better absorbed by the body when accompanied by lipid molecules .
Finally, we require a lower dose of the ingredient thanks to the increased availability of nutrients in the bloodstream. This ensures that the body only eliminates a very small percentage of the nutrient.
Maximum absorption of a nutrient thus means, maximum nutritional effect.
Read more about liposomes and bioavailability here
The disadvantages of liposome-encapsulated food supplements compared to traditional food supplements
As such, there are no known disadvantages of plant-based liposomes as they are biocompatible. They are non-toxic and are easily eliminated from our body by macrophages .
One of the limiting factors for liposomal formulations is, however, cost. Liposomal food supplements are a little bit more expensive than traditional food supplements of the same dosage. This is because they are a new technology. However, with the increased adoption of liposomal technology, we foresee that this difference will soon be a thing of the past.
Further, as outlined above, the nutritional advantages far exceed the current cost limitations.
- Traditional food supplements are those manufactured using well-established practices.
- Traditional food supplements do not always complete our normal diets. They suffer from problems of overloading, destruction by the digestive system and poor water solubility.
- Liposomal formulations are an emerging category of food supplements. Liposomes are phospholipid bilayer spheres capable of encapsulating both water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients.
- Liposome-encapsulated food supplements have several advantages over traditional food supplements. They can protect their contents from gastric destruction thus effectively being able to deliver almost all their content into the bloodstream.
- The National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplement fact sheets. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/
- Hirota Y & Suhara Y. New Aspects of Vitamin K Research with Synthetic Ligands: Transcriptional Activity via SXR and Neural Differentiation Activity. Int J Mol Sci. (2019); 20 (12): 3006.
- Shade CW. Liposomes as Advanced Delivery Systems for Nutraceuticals. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2016;15(1):33–36.
- Stohs SJ, Chen O, Ray SD et al. Highly Bioavailable Forms of Curcumin and Promising Avenues for Curcumin-Based Research and Application: A Review. Molecules (2020); 25: 1397.
- Porter CJH, Trevaskis NL and Charman WN. Lipids and lipid-based formulations: optimizing the oral delivery of lipophilic drugs. Nature Reviews (2007); 6: 231–248.