"Liposomal" vitamin delivery is one of the hottest topics in the supplement world right now. If you're looking for vitamin C or maybe even a multivitamin, you've probably heard the buzz.
But is there any credible research behind the hype?
This article will explain exactly what a liposome is, what the research says, the limitations of this new form of vitamin, and whether we're sold on this form (spoiler: not quite, but we'll explain why Why Not Natural won't be releasing any liposomal supplements any time soon).
What is a Liposome?
In more scientific terms, a liposome is a small artificial sphere of phospholipid (in other words a fatty acid or its derivative that contains a phosphate group) that encapsulates vitamins (or in pharmaceutical use, a drug). These spheres mimic the structure of the human cell membrane and bind with the cell membrane for fast absorption.
The phospholipid used in liposomal technology is usually derived from soy lecithin or sunflower lecithin.
In simpler terms, it's a microscopic, pocket of fat-like cells inside of which are created to hold nutrients for easier delivery to the cells in your body and enhanced bioavailability.
They've been used since they were discovered in 1964 as a way to deliver drugs, for example cancer treatments. (1)
What is the Benefit of Liposomal Delivery
Liposomal Vitamin C Benefits
Liposomes are often used in vitamin C as it can enhance the amount of this water-soluble vitamin that can be absorbed by fatty tissues like the small intestine.
Your body typically only absorbs about 300-400 mg of vitamin C at a time and above this amount it's oversaturated and the excess will be flushed.
For most people this isn't a problem: the daily recommended serving of vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. Even for pregnant women, the daily recommendation is 120 mg per day.
That being said, there's plenty of evidence confirming that a dose of 500 mg per day is safe with the main side effect being digestive discomfort (possibly due to the excess not being absorbed).
Liposomal vitamin C can allow the body to absorb more than the typical 300-400 mg, but you can also enhance your absorption by taking smaller amounts in multiple servings and you can avoid digestive discomfort by taking a buffered (non-acidic) form.
Liposomal Vitamin Delivery Benefits
Just as the bioavailability (percentage the body absorbs) of vitamin C is increased by using liposomal technology, it's assumed that other lower-bioavailability nutrients will be improved by encapsulation.
However, as we'll soon discuss, this hasn't yet been proven.
Liposomal vitamins present a non-invasive alternative to injections and are easy to take for those who can't swallow tablets and capsules, as they're in liquid form.
It's possible a lower dose of liposomal vitamins may give the same effect as higher-dose supplements and eventually be a more cost-effective alternative when the technology becomes more widely available.
What Does the Research Say about Liposomal Vitamins?
One randomized trial, which first analyzed the liposomes to ensure stability and uniform particle sizes, found that liposomal vitamin C was 1.77 more bioavailable compared to non-encapsulated. (2)
Another study compared intravenous injections of vitamin C, liposomal vitamin C, and an unencapsulated oral vitamin C supplement. It found that the liposomal was less effective than injections but more effective than unencapsulated vitamin C, in terms of absorbed percentage. It's also worth noting that the studied dose was 4 grams, which is many times the daily recommended dose and double the recommended upper limit. (3)
So far, there's very limited evidence on any liposomal vitamin forms besides vitamin C.
What are the Problems with Liposomal Vitamins?
The main issue with liposomal is proving that the supplement you're buying is, in fact, liposomal. This is a very expensive, advanced technology and there's no requirement for manufacturers to prove their claims of the supplement actually containing liposomes.
There are a few "pseudo-liposomal" technologies being used (low to medium shear methods using a lot of lecithin). These technologies created a gel with a range of particle sizes - not ideal.
Another method that's been used is a rotor-state mixer that creates a milky solution that also has a large range of sizes.
Since liposomal technology's effectiveness relies on the tiny particle size, these pseudo-liposomes likely provided no advantage.
Instability of Liposomes
Another unresolved issue in liposomal technlogy include instability during production and storage. This can lead to undesirable side effects and decreased effectiveness. Liposomes are highly susceptible to oxidation and hydrolysis which degrade them. (4)
Whether a liposome is stable and will even remain a liposome by the time you purchase it is dependent on the ingredients and how well-constructed they are, and unfortunately there's no way for a consumer to know whether they're getting the technology that's claimed, even from a reputable brand. (5)
Should You Take a Liposome?
Liposomal vitamins tend to be vastly more expensive compared with conventional vitamin alternatives. Should you spend the extra money?
The first thing to consider is that while liposomal technology has been used in pharmaceutical applications for years, the technology is very new to the supplement industry. It's extremely expensive and it's unlikely that many manufacturers are using the sophisticated technology required to make a true liposome.
A second consideration is that there's no way to prove that a supplement with "liposomal" on the label is, in fact, liposomal. Even if the technology was used to create it, the instability of liposomes means that it's likely by the time you purchase it, it's just a standard supplement.
A Better Alternative
The final consideration: what form is being used? You may decide to take your chances and purchase a liposomal supplement, but in the end, the form of any given supplement is going to be the biggest factor in how well your body responds to it.
For example, if we had to choose between low-quality cyanocobalamin B12 in liposome form and a conventional methylcobalamin B12, we'd take the higher-quality form (methylcobalamin) of the vitamin any day.
Liquid vitamins offer many of the same benefits of liposomes: liquid form so it's easy to take, the ability to choose your dose, and enhanced absorption.
Plus, with the ability to 3rd party test the finished product (Why Not Natural has all their products tested before they're released), what you see is what you get - no mysteries. You can check out Why Not Natural's liquid vitamins here.
(1) Application of liposomes in medicine and drug delivery
Hadis Daraee, Ali Etemadi, Mohammad Kouhi, Samira Alimirzalu & Abolfazl Akbarzadeh
(2) Evaluation and clinical comparison studies on liposomal and non-liposomal ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and their enhanced bioavailability
(3) Liposomal-encapsulated Ascorbic Acid: Influence on Vitamin C Bioavailability and Capacity to Protect Against Ischemia–Reperfusion Injury
(4) Liposomes: Structure, Biomedical Applications, and Stability Parameters With Emphasis on Cholesterol
(5) Loss of Plasma Membrane Phospholipid Asymmetry Requires Raft Integrity
Corinne Kunzelmann-Marche, Jean-Marie Freyssinet, M. Carmen Martı́nez