With the ever mounting evidence for the various benefits of vitamin C, there is no surprise that manufacturers are modifying vitamin C supplements to try and keep ahead of the competition and keep up with the latest research. One of the more recent vitamin C supplements brought to the market is liposomal vitamin C, which, as always, is touted as being better than the rest. In this article I’ll explain what liposomal vitamin C is, look at the research on it, and see how it compares to conventional vitamin C supplements.
What is liposomal vitamin C?
A liposome is a phospholipid membrane which encases and transports various substances in the body (see image to the right). The phospholipid membrane is exactly the same as the membranes in our cells, and so liposomes can fuse with our cells to release its contents. Our body uses liposomes to transport various substances around the body, and they have also been used in medicine to help deliver drugs for a long time.
The idea behind liposomal vitamin C is that it is much easier to absorb than other vitamin C supplements because the liposome will fuse with cells in the digestive system and deliver the vitamin C directly into the cells rather than having to be absorbed the conventional way through transport proteins.
Research on liposomal vitamin C
Research on absorption has shown that liposomal vitamin C is indeed absorbed much faster than conventional vitamin C supplements but understandably is not as effective as vitamin C administered through an IV (intravenous)1. However, what’s interesting is that liposomal vitamin C can raised blood concentrations of vitamin C to double the amount achievable through supplements or foods, with one oral dose capable of reaching concentrations of 400 umol/ L2.
These levels of vitamin C are very impressive, and in my opinion makes liposomal vitamin C more of a pharmaceutical than a supplement, but these concentrations aren’t anything to worry about. Clinical trials have achieved vitamin C concentrations in the blood in excess of 14000 umol/ L through IV, and this has been very safe and shown no toxic effects. This being said, there is little known about the long term effects (if any) of regularly having extremely high concentrations of vitamin C.
What isn’t mentioned in the research is the retention of vitamin C when administered through liposomes. Considering that liposomal vitamin C can boost levels in the blood above that which the body can naturally achieve, it is quite reasonable to assume that this level is beyond that which the body can retain for very long, and so vitamin C levels may spike very high, but quickly drop down.
Looking at research into the retention time of oral and IV administered vitamin C can give us a good idea of how we would expect liposomal vitamin C to behave. IV is most comparable to liposomal vitamin C in terms of delivery, and the retention of IV vitamin C only lasts about 2 hours (although this can be extended to up to 6 hours with dosages of 100g, but achieving this with liposomal vitamin C is near impossible). In contrast, the retention time for conventional vitamin C supplements is at least 12 hours. This dramatic difference is mainly due to the fact that this vitamin C must be absorbed through the digestive system, which takes time3.
With this information, you would expect liposomal vitamin C to be retained for about 2 hours after ingestion, which isn’t very long.
Liposomal vitamin C has received the most interest for its potential to kill cancer cells. There is research showing that very high levels of vitamin C are selectively toxic to some types of cancer, but most of it is done in vitro4,5,2 (outside of normal biological conditions i.e. in a lab with cultured cells). One study did show that 50% of cancer cells are killed at plasma concentrations of 400 umol/ L, which is achievable by liposomal vitamin C2 (in vitro), but most sources say that vitamin C concentrations need to be above 1000 umol/ L to be toxic to cancer cells4, which is only really achievable through IV.
There certainly is some interesting and promising results from using very high levels of vitamin C to help combat cancer in a non-toxic way. However, it is still uncertain if liposomal vitamin C is an effective tool for this because of the limited research on it. Most of the research in this area is being conducted using IV administrated vitamin C because extremely high concentrations can be easily achieved. Liposomal vitamin C simply needs more research on it to understand its comparable efficacy.
Liposomal vitamin C vs regular vitamin C
Liposomal – These contain ascorbic acid with no additional nutrients. You will receive a large vitamin C concentration in your blood, but this will not last very long (perhaps 2 hours from the data available). Liposomal vitamin C isn’t associated with any digestive discomfort, even at high dosages.
Conventional – Can come in many forms including plain ascorbic acid, mineral ascorbates and ethyl-esters. They can also be accompanied by various co-factors and metabolites such as bio-flavinoids which can help with absorption (see more on the various vitamin C forms here). These supplements cannot achieve the same blood levels of vitamin C than liposomes, but because they are absorbed through the digestive system, vitamin C levels are raised for longer than liposomes. Some vitamin C supplements are associated with causing digestive discomfort, especially when taken at high dosages.
Liposomal vitamin C is very interesting, and has had some very promising research on its potential as a complementary treatment for cancer. However, I do not think it should replace current vitamin C supplements. I think conventional vitamin C supplements are a better way of regularly increasing your vitamin C intake due to the longer retention time in the body. However, for those odd occasions when you feel like you want to have a high dosage of vitamin C (perhaps when you have a cold), or if you experience stomach discomfort from conventional vitamin C supplements, then liposomal vitamin C is ideal.
- 1. Janelle L. Davis. (2016). Liposomal-encapsulated Ascorbic Acid: Influence on Vitamin C Bioavailability and Capacity to Protect Against Ischemia–Reperfusion Injury. Nutr Metab Insights. 9 (-), 25-30.
- Stephen Hickey. (2008). Pharmacokinetics of oral vitamin C. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine. 17 (3), 169-177.
- American College of Physicians. (2006). Annals of internal medicine.Available: http://annals.org/data/Journals/AIM/20062/10FF2.jpeg. Last accessed 12/8/2016.
- Sebastian J. Padayatty. (2006). Intravenously administered vitamin C as cancer therapy: three cases. CMAJ. 174 (7), 937-942.
- Fritz H. (2014). Intravenous Vitamin C and Cancer: A Systematic Review. Integr Cancer Ther. 13 (4), 280-300.
Image courtesy of Vladimir Agafonkin.