Liposomal Vitamin C: Why Doctors Recommend It For Immune Health
In the wide world of supplements, vitamin C is one of those nutrients that everyone can pretty much agree on: It's a low-key workhorse when it comes to supporting your health.
Vitamin C plays a key role in processes that amp up your skin's glow factor, and it even supports brain and heart health. Plus, perhaps most importantly (given our current COVID-19 reality), it's a powerhouse for immunity—vitamin C deficiencies have been associated with increased risk of virus-induced respiratory infections, including colds.
Vitamin C is also an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies can't make it naturally, so we need to get it from foods and supplements. But if you've Googled vitamin C supplements at all recently, you may have noticed a new result popping up in your feed: liposomal vitamin C.
Liposomal vitamin C isn't totally new, but it is newly trendy. This year, several companies have released liposomal vitamin C products promising enhanced absorption; and on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, renowned longevity expert and Harvard geneticist David Sinclair, Ph.D., said he's been taking it to support immune health during the pandemic.
But is it really better? Here's what the research and experts say.
What is liposomal vitamin C?
First, let's talk about liposomes. These are extremely tiny lipids or fat particles that are manufactured from common fats like sunflower oil, and they've been used as an effective method of drug and nutrient delivery since the 1970s. More specifically, liposomes are phospholipids—the same type of fat as those that make up your cell membranes.
With liposomal vitamin C supplements, the liposomal encapsulation process traps vitamin C inside these microscopic phospholipid spheres. Most liposomal vitamin C supplements on the market come in liquid form, and some include additional nutrients like vitamin D or added natural flavorings like citrus oils. A typical serving size is 1 teaspoon and often contains 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C.
What are the benefits of liposomal vitamin C?
The key benefit: an increase in absorption, by way of better uptake into the bloodstream, and less degradation by stomach acid. With regular vitamin C, absorption rates aren't exactly great—in fact, with doses over 1,000 mg, absorption is only about 50%. What happens with the rest? You pee it out. But due to the structure of liposomal vitamin C, absorption rates may be much higher.
"Liposomes are better absorbed because they bond to your tissue membranes first, facilitating delivery of nutrients," says integrative physician Amy Shah, M.D. The liposomes are able to bond to cell membranes in the intestinal wall—and then directly enter the bloodstream—specifically because both are made from phospholipids.
Unlike food and traditional supplement tablets, liposomal agents also bypass a large portion of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, explains Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician. Gandhi regularly recommends liposomal vitamin C and liposomal glutathione to her patients. Not only does this enhance absorption, she says, it also means there's less risk for toxicity, and these supplements are generally better tolerated with fewer side effects such as upset stomach.
Is it really that effective?
Signs point to yes. In two studies, from 2016 and 2019, researchers noted greater vitamin C bioavailability (as measured by blood plasma concentrations) when it was encapsulated in liposomes compared to an unencapsulated form. Another study from 2019 found that white blood cells absorbed around 50% more vitamin C from a liposomal vitamin C product than a non-liposomal product.
Beyond the boosted absorption, liposomal vitamin C doesn't have unique perks over other forms. Just like regular vitamin C, it may help combat oxidative stress, enhance immune function, improve collagen production, boost iron absorption, and support overall cardiovascular and brain health. But because you're absorbing more, it might just help your body do these things more efficiently and effectively.
How do you pick the best supplement?
As with all supplements, it's a good idea to seek out a liposomal vitamin C product from a reputable company that's third-party tested for purity and potency.
Some companies add additional nutrients, flavorings, and non-caloric sweeteners to their liposomal vitamin C products, so read labels carefully and choose a product that best meets your needs. A few options include Pure Encapsulations, Baseline, and Trilogia.
Gandhi recommends 500 mg of liposomal vitamin C per day, especially during cold and flu season, as a safe dose that may help enhance immune health. But, she says, "there's even more reason to take it now during our current pandemic."
Compared to typical vitamin C, there's a pretty good consensus among doctors and researchers that liposomal vitamin C is easier for your body to absorb and thus utilize—and this, in turn, may translate to improved health. This, coupled with its relative lack of side effects, could make it a smart addition to your supplement lineup.
Of course, don't forget about all the awesome food sources of vitamin C like spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, oranges, and bell peppers. "Eating your vitamin C is ideal," says Shah, "but if you're going to supplement, liposomal is the way to go."
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