In the last few years, there has been a rapid increase in the uptake of nutritional supplements for improving health and well-being. In the aftermath of the pandemic especially, the conversation around the role of nutritional supplements for boosting immunity has grown more fervent.
Even though nutritional supplements are beneficial, the purpose of consuming them is hardly met if they fail to be available at the body’s target site. In fact, some orally ingested nutrients are not even fully absorbed by the human body. In addition, some supplements when consumed in the conventional form can end up getting damaged by biochemical processes reducing the bioavailability inside the body. The end result is that the supplement becomes ineffective unless it is consumed in large doses, which again is not recommended for fear of unnecessary side effects.
It is for these reasons that there have been several experiments with different techniques to improve the nutrient bioavailability of nutritional supplements. One subject of research that is being studied for several years now is liposomal nanotechnology. This has been used to successfully develop stable and reliable novel drug delivery systems. These systems have been playing a key role in developing applications across a host of medical therapies ranging from HIV to cancer to COVID-19 treatment.
Liposomal Nanotechnology: An Overview
Liposomes are spherically shaped microscopic vesicles consisting of phospholipid bilayer membranes. They are extremely tiny nanoparticles measuring normally up to 100-300 nm in diameter. They are spontaneously formed when certain phospholipids are hydrated with water. These structures have the ability to deliver both hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds that are used in anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, immune-modulation, diagnostics, ophthalmic, vaccines, enzymes and genetic elements.
Due to the innate nature of these liposomes, it is possible to load both water and fat-soluble active ingredients onto these. These spherical liposome bubbles can be leveraged to trap and stabilize a variety of compounds that are utilized in medications and to ensure their safe passage through the body till these reach a specific target site. Nanotechnology, meanwhile, refers to the process of creating micro particles of the nutrient one wishes to coat with the liposomes.
Role of Liposomal Nanotechnology in Enhancing Benefits of Nutrients
Until recent times, liposomes were only used for targeted drug delivery systems. Nonetheless, they have now found a growing use even in the oral delivery for nutritional supplements and nutraceuticals as well.
Nutraceuticals are often viewed as a simpler and convenient way to describe foods, or their components, that may provide health benefits beyond nutritional food. They contain varied components that affect a number of body functions that are relevant to a state of well-being and health or reduce the risk of a disease.
However, it has been observed that when consumed directly, nutritional supplements are not effective due to their low absorption rate. The nutrient bioavailability is significantly affected because of acidic pH, bile salts, some digestive enzymes, etc, and other elements in the gastrointestinal tract. This leaves the nutrients ineffective and the therapeutic value that was intended is hardly delivered.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology have the potential to offer innovative solutions in the development of functional foods, especially, the inclusion of bioactive compounds without impacting the sensory perception of the consumer and bettering the acceptance of certain components.
Such advanced nanotechnology approaches are being used to developing high-performance delivery vehicles for the encapsulation and protection of biologically active substances of food origin. This approach makes it possible to load varied nutrients, bioactive ingredients and phytochemicals into biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticles, that will improve their aqueous solubility, stability, bioavailability, and circulation time in the body.
As soon as the nutrients (either lipophilic or hydrophilic) are encapsulated within the liposomes, they can effectively pass through the metabolism. They can then navigate through the lymphatic pathway in order to get to the small intestine safely and then adhere to the cells there.
More importantly, while liposomes provide protection to the bioactive nutrient, they also make it more stable till the bioactive nutrient molecule is efficiently absorbed by the intestinal epithelia. This helps in ensuring that the bioactive ingredient in the nutritional supplement is absorbed more efficiently by the target cell site, in turn, delivering the full therapeutic value of the nutritional supplement. Liposomes are the best option for the controlled release of many kinds of active ingredients used as nutritional supplements.
As such, for the liposomes to be effectively absorbed by the cell, they must be of a specific size. With the use of nanotechnology and reducing the size of the liposomes to maintain it to around 150nm, the nutrients can be taken up by the cell more effectively.
Let’s understand this better with a few examples of its applications:
Applications in nutritional gummies and chewies
As we saw earlier, nanotechnology refers to the process of creating micro particles of the nutrient one wishes to coat with liposomes. Let us take the example of a Vitamin C chewy or gummies. The micro particles will be inserted into special fat-soluble materials resembling micro bubbles, just a few millionths of an inch in diameter, which have the ability of being absorbed through the gut lining without being digested. The bubbles enter the bloodstream and are presented to the cells of the body as required.
The gut lining accepts the liposomes well because they are made up of a similar material which enhances the body’s capacity to absorb and utilize the nutrient to its fullest potential. The result is that liposomal Vitamin C is absorbed much more efficiently than conventional delivery methods to have maximum bioavailability for the body, resulting in more nutrient being used.
Another advantage is that this process also reduces digestive discomfort, cramping or stomach aches that are common while taking conventional forms of Vitamin C at high doses.
Applications in dermal drug delivery
Another noteworthy use of nanocarriers is for dermal drug delivery. This technology has left a wide field open for research since it enables the penetration of therapeutics across the skin that is a highly complex biological barrier.
In general, dermal drug delivery is generally challenging due to the low skin permeability of therapeutics. While a number of methods have been developed to improve skin penetration and permeation of therapeutics, they are usually aggressive and could lead to irreversible harm.
Nanotechnology represents an alternative approach, with minimal damage to the natural barrier function of skin. In particular, smart nanoparticles that respond to the external environment like temperature and pH have shown promising results for the treatment of multiple dermal disorders.
Techniques Leveraged in Manufacturing Liposomes
Manufacturing techniques have a major role to play in deciding the quality of the liposomes. A range of advanced methods like ethanol injection, thin-film hydration, reverse-phase evaporation and more are used to develop stable liposomes with high encapsulation efficiency.
These methods are a way of ensuring higher encapsulation efficiency and effective drug loading. They also help in the formation of smaller and uniform-size vesicles that result in increased permeation and bioavailability compared to standalone micronutrients.
With the use of these various methods, it is possible to increase the encapsulation efficiency and an effective drug delivery pathway can be established. This in turn enhances the stability of the actives in the nutritional supplements and increases the absorption within the cells.
All in all, liposomes have the ability to become stellar delivery systems owing to their biocompatibility, biodegradability, and low toxicity in the human body. They should be used more often to meet the real needs of the modern nutraceutical industry.
Liposomal nanotechnology is likely to make new inroads in the nutraceuticals and functional food industry in the near future. It holds a huge promise to address the limitations that are related to the absorption of a range of nutrients and compounds in the body. In fact, in modern day medicine, the potential of nanotechnology has benefits for a host of areas including cosmetics, food engineering and technology along with nutraceuticals. Moreover, the use of liposomal technology also has a number of seminal applications in the health, sport as well as fitness ecosystem too.
However, its potential notwithstanding, research on oral liposomal formulations is less. There are only a few studies that are looking at research towards the absorption and effects of oral nutritional liposomal formulations on human health.
The nutraceutical industry has not fully unlocked the potential of liposomal nanotechnology. Clearly there is a need for more investments in production technology and product testing besides, research. It is only with an all-round approach will it be possible to ensure the integrity of these products.
Arun Kedia · Managing Director at VAV Life Sciences