What is Liposomal Vitamin C and Why Is It Superior to Traditional Vitamin C
By Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MPH
By Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MPH
The bioavailability of vitamin C is limited by how much the intestines and the kidneys can absorb.1 With most oral forms of vitamin C, the limit is about 500 mg per dose. This is why some people develop diarrhea with higher doses of vitamin C taken as a single dose, because they are taking more than their body can absorb. Since vitamin C has so many important functions in the body, there is a potential benefit to taking more than what the body can normally absorb. To accomplish this, doctors sometimes will use IV infusions. However, these are time consuming and inconvenient for the patient who must go to a medical facility to have this done. Another option is to take a liposomal form. Liposomal delivery systems were developed to allow the body to more efficiently absorb certain vitamins and nutrients that are otherwise poorly absorbed in supplement form.
Liposomes are made up of a lipid bilayer which incases the nutrient, (in this case vitamin C), to improve the absorption. Research comparing vitamin C levels in people taking liposomal versus regular vitamin C showed a higher circulating level in the body with liposomal vitamin C. 1
Liposomes are microscopic fat particles made from phospholipids and have a cargo load, in the form of a nutrient hidden inside. These phospholipids are the same as in egg yolk or krill oil. Vitamin C liposomes are absorbed in a very unique manner. The liposomes are absorbed by the cells in the body, since they have an outer layer (membrane) that is made from the same phospholipids as the cell membrane. The liposome and the cell merge like two soap bubbles will merge when they touch each other. The content of the two spheres will also blend together and in this ingenious way, the vitamin C in the liposome is directly delivered into the cell.
Liposomal absorption is very different from intestinal absorption. Most nutrients and drugs are molecules that are too large to be absorbed. The most common way for food absorption is to break down the nutritional molecules to a size where they can slip between the stomach and intestinal cell walls and enter the blood stream. The liver and other organs then re-assemble the molecules. Liposomal vitamin C absorption is very different because it directly enters the cell. The fat layer of the liposome protects the vitamin C from coming into direct contact with the stomach and intestines. This protection reduces the intestinal side effects often seen with traditional ascorbic acid supplements. (vitamin C)
Vitamin C has a wide range of functions in the body. It is best known as a water-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants donate electrons to get rid of damaging free radicals in the body. In order for vitamin C to stay active as an antioxidant in needs to be recycled by the master antioxidant in the body, glutathione. Vitamin C helps protect many molecules in the body from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the result of the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. An excessive level of oxidative stress adversely impacts many body mechanisms, including energy production, cognitive function, immune function, inflammation & detoxification.
What is not as well known is that vitamin C also serves as a cofactor in multiple enzymatic reactions. An enzymatic reaction is taking one chemical in the body and changing it into another chemical needed for metabolism. This enzymatic reaction cannot work without its specific cofactor. As a cofactor in reactions, Vitamin C helps with the production of collagen needed for connective tissue and carnitine, a nutrient important for energy production.2
Vitamin C is perhaps best known for its essential role in promoting a strong immune system. Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system3. It is essential for optimal health under both normal conditions as well as while encountering external immune threats. Research shows that vitamin C levels in the body decrease when the immune system is under stress. Vitamin C intake under normal health conditions is often recommended at 100-200 mg/day, which optimizes cell and tissue levels. In contrast, significantly higher doses (>1 gram) of the vitamin are recommended to promote a healthy response during an immune system assault.
Our white blood cells are our immune cells that help fight infections. Inside these white blood cells, the level of vitamin C is 10 times higher than in the regular blood.3 Vitamin C plays a role in the immune system through its impact on these white blood cells including phagocytes and the production of a chemical called interferon needed for a strong immune response.4
Vitamin C is not often known for its role in the nervous system, but it helps modulate several of the neurotransmitters in the body including the cholinergic, catecholinergic, and glutaminergic systems.5 In addition, it helps with the maturation of nerve cells and myelin production, which is the important lipid coating around nerve cells.5 Research has shown higher average levels of vitamin C in people with normal cognition versus those suffering impaired or decreased cognition.5
Another lesser known role of vitamin C is its important role in vascular function. It works as an antioxidant to protect the vascular tissue from oxidative stress damage. By recycling Vitamin E, it helps prevent dangerous fats from damaging blood vessels. It helps the blood vessels relax or vasodilate by increasing nitric oxide. If vessels get rigid or tend to vasoconstrict this leads to damage to the vessels. Vitamin C also supports cardiovascular health by regulating the activity of certain enzymes such as the NADPH oxidases.
Classic vitamin C deficiency is a disease called scurvy, a condition that is uncommon today. Prior to the work of Linus Pauling, a biochemist awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry, vitamin C requirements were established to prevent severe vitamin C deficiency. Dr. Pauling is known for focusing on higher vitamin C levels required to reach/maintain optimal health during normal times as well as during severe health challenges. Environmental toxins, stress, and tobacco use all increases our need for antioxidants such as vitamin C.
The most common side effects of vitamin C are diarrhea and/or upset stomach. This is often seen with higher oral doses of non-liposomal vitamin C. Unlike fat soluble vitamins which build up and are stored in the tissue, vitamin C is water soluble. This means any excess that the body cannot absorb, is passed through and excreted via the urine, making it safe to take in high doses.
Vitamin C is a safe water-soluble vitamin that has many critical functions in the body, ranging from supporting the immune system to helping with brain and cardiac function. It also plays a critical role in supporting tissue health by removing damaging free radicals. Taking a liposomal form of vitamin C allows the body to absorb higher doses than would be possible with a non-liposomal form, thus maximizing its health supporting benefits.