What is Liposomal Vitamin C? (SQ-146)
Vitamin C is one of the most popular supplements, mostly known for its role in improving immunity. But this powerful anti-oxidant offers many other health benefits, that includes supporting heart health and healing wounds faster. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C and / or quality supplements is crucial for maintaining healthy vitamin C levels in the body, as we cannot make our own vitamin C.
There are many types of vitamin C supplements available in the market and out of these liposomal vitamin C promises superior absorption and bioavailability. But what exactly is liposomal vitamin C and why is liposomal vitamin C better than regular vitamin C?
Let’s find out. But first, let’s discuss the role of this important vitamin in our overall health.
Why do you need vitamin C?
Vitamin C performs a lot of functions in the body and its role as a powerful anti-oxidant and as an essential co-factor in the production of healthy collagen, neurotransmitters, steroid hormones and other molecules is the backbone of all the incredible health benefits it has to offer.
1. Helps in collagen production: Vitamin C works as an essential co-factor in the synthesis of collagen, a protein that gives structure, strength and support to your connective tissues. In addition, vitamin C also works as a cofactor in the production of carnitine – a molecule responsible for the oxidation of fatty acids. Coming back to collagen, it is a protein present in the bones, ligaments, tendons, teeth, skin and even blood vessels. Collagen keeps your skin elastic, joints healthy and arteries strong and flexible. Chronic vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy, where defective collagen production leads to weak and fragile connective tissues. Symptoms of scurvy include bleeding of gums, loss of teeth, severe pain in the joints and muscles, fatigue, anemia, poor wound healing and red spots on the skin.
2. Helps fight free radicals: Vitamin C functions as a forceful antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals, thereby reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
3. Helps boost immunity: Vitamin C improves your immunity through a number of mechanisms. Most importantly, it boosts the number and activity of various white blood cells, enhances the production of antibody, increases interferon production, and protects the immune cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
4. Involved in hormone production: Your body needs vitamin C to make important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and adrenaline in the adrenal glands. It is also involved in the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. All these hormones play an important role in maintaining your emotional and mental well-being by regulating sleep, mood, memory and stress response.
5. Helps in absorbing iron: Vitamin C improves iron absorption, especially from plant-based foods. Deficiency in iron can cause anemia with symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, inflamed tongue, loss of appetite and pale skin. Iron deficiency is quite common among children, women of child bearing age, pregnant women and vegetarians. Taking a high-quality vitamin C supplement is important to make sure you maintain healthy levels of iron in the body.
Why do you need vitamin C supplements?
Humans cannot produce their own vitamin C and this makes it an essential vitamin. We must rely on vitamin C rich foods and supplements to maintain healthy levels. Moreover, vitamin C is water soluble so your body cannot store it for later use, which means any amount that is not absorbed or processed is excreted in the urine. We need to consume vitamin C rich foods on a regular basis to maintain good levels.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamin C but heating destroys it. And many other factors could be at play in increasing your risk of developing vitamin C deficiency. These include:
- Poor diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables
- Too much consumption of processed and overcooked food
- Restricted diet, anorexia, food allergies
- Heavy drinking and heavy smoking
- Absorption issues due to gastrointestinal surgeries and disorders
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding
If you are not getting sufficient vitamin C from your diet, or you think you may be deficient (especially if you are a heavy smoker, consume too much alcohol or suffer from any chronic disease that tends to deplete the body's antioxidant supply), a good quality supplement can help you achieve adequate levels. There are different kinds of vitamin C supplements available in the market but for any supplement to work effectively and offer maximum benefits, it is important that your body can absorb it properly.
So, what kind of vitamin C supplement is the best?
That brings us to liposomal vitamin C, which has an edge over other traditional supplements in terms of its superior absorption and bioavailability.
Liposomal vitamin C: Understanding liposomal technology
When you take any regular supplement, the enzymes and acids present in the gastrointestinal tract degrade and destroy most of its contents. As a result, only a small part of the ingested nutrient escapes this chaos and reaches the cells and tissues where it is needed.
Factors like age, gut health, nutritional deficiencies and long-term use of certain medications also influence how effectively your body is able to absorb a certain nutrient. For example, folate deficiency, poor gut health and lack of intrinsic factor (a protein that helps in B12 absorption in the small intestine but production of which can be impacted by pernicious anemia and gastritis) can result in poor absorption of vitamin B12. In such cases, using liposomal supplements can prove to be a far more effective strategy than taking a regular oral B12 supplement. So, how does it work? What makes liposomal supplements better than traditional supplements that you may be taking in the form of pills or powder?
Supplements that are formulated with the help of liposomal technology are considered to have better absorption and bioavailability than their traditional counterparts because of liposomes - super tiny bubbles that are made of phospholipids. Our cell membranes are, in fact, made up of the same kind of phospholipids.
Let’s breakdown the structure of a phospholipid molecule. It consists of:
- A hydrophobic tail made of a phosphate group (repelled by water)
- A hydrophilic head made of two chains of fatty acids (attracted to water)
When this structure comes in contact with a water solution, phospholipid molecules automatically orient themselves into tiny spheres, called liposomes. It is this unique structure of the phospholipids that makes liposomes perfect vehicles to safely store, carry and deliver nutrients directly to the cells, without causing degradation and damage to the nutrients.
Why is liposomal vitamin C better than regular vitamin C?
The problem with vitamin C is that it is poorly absorbed by the body. Your body cannot absorb all of the vitamin C that you get from regular supplements. In fact, a very large part of it is left behind in the intestines and is excreted out of the body. Consequently, only a small percentage (not even 20 % - and as little as 7% depending on the brand) reaches the bloodstream. In addition, an even lesser amount reaches the target cells. This occurs because vitamin C is water soluble and as such faces considerable resistance while crossing the cell membranes, which are made of fats.
Taking large doses of regular non-liposomal Vitamin C can cause digestive problems such as bloating, cramping, nausea, diarrhea and heartburn. All these digestive issues can further contribute to poor absorption.
But liposomal vitamin C significantly improves the bioavailability and absorption of vitamin C. In liposomal vitamin C supplements, the vitamin C is enclosed within a liposome – a tiny spherical shape. Now, liposomes are able to attach to the cell membranes and enter your cells and tissue membranes directly and very effectively as they are composed of the same type of fat as your cell membranes, i.e., phospholipids.
Liposomes also prevent the encapsulated vitamin C from coming into direct contact with the gastrointestinal tract, thus protecting the enclosed cargo from degradation that takes place during digestion. Simply put, more vitamin C reaches your cells when it is delivered using liposomal technology. Summarizing the benefits of liposomal vitamin C, we can say it provides enhanced absorption and bio-availability and prevents toxicity and side effects such as bloating, cramping or diarrhea.
Do we have studies to prove that liposomal vitamin C is better than the regular vitamin C? The studies around this delivery system are clear. For instance, this 2016 study showed that liposomal vitamin C produces higher concentrations of the vitamin C in the bloodstream than regular non-liposomal vitamin C supplements.  A 2021 clinical trial also evaluated and compared the bioavailability of liposomal vitamin C and non-liposomal vitamin C in healthy, adults, when they were fasting, and reported enhanced bioavailability for liposomal (encapsulated) vitamin C. 
Most of us think of Vitamin C as a "go to" supplement when one gets cold or flu. But this powerful anti-oxidant is loaded with more than just immune boosting properties. We now know that vitamin C is an important ingredient for collagen synthesis and repair. Collagen lends strength and structure to your connective tissues and a serious vitamin C deficiency can cause the body tissues to fall apart, resulting in scurvy. If left undiagnosed, scurvy can cause severe internal bleeding and even death.
Chronic shortage of this vitamin can also increase your risk of heart disease. It is because collagen, which your body makes with the help of vitamin C as a co-factor, is also a part of your arteries. In addition, vitamin C is a strong antioxidant and neutralizes free radicals, toxic molecules known to damage DNA, proteins, lipids and other fragile cellular structures.
Excessive production of free radicals puts the body under oxidative stress, leading to inflammation and disease. Some production of free radicals is natural. For example, your body generates free radicals during energy metabolism (which is when your body processes food to create energy) and when it is fighting any infection. And your body is self-sufficient in defusing free radicals when they are produced in controlled way. A healthy body gets a reasonable supply of antioxidants from both inside (it makes its own antioxidants like glutathione) and from outside (through foods and supplements). These antioxidants have the power to neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals.
However, there are times when your body produces more free radicals than it can deal with. For example, the body generates excessive free radicals when you are struggling with a chronic infection. Similarly, factors and conditions like long-term stress, depression, anxiety long-term use of prescription drugs, heavy smoking, alcohol abuse, chronic diseases, exposure to harmful chemicals, exposure to ionizing radiation and nutritional deficiencies also trigger the body to produce more free radicals then it can control. When this happens, it not only depletes existing antioxidants but places a greater demand on the body for more antioxidants to deal with the damage. If the body fails in that endeavour, it can lead to uncontrolled oxidative damage and inflammation in the body.
Antioxidants like vitamin C can help mitigate some of the damage, thus reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, along with its role in collagen production and repair, makes vitamin C an extremely useful nutrient in some chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Some nutrients, especially magnesium, are extremely useful in conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety. It appears that vitamin C may also play an important role in stress response and management. In fact, your adrenal gland stores the highest concentration of Vitamin C in the body. Your nervous system contains 2 to 4 times more vitamin C than in blood plasma. Early evidence from clinical trials shows that vitamin C supplementation is likely helpful in stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety. 
Health Benefits of Vitamin C
Let’s look at some of the major health benefits of vitamin C, signifying why we must maintain adequate levels.
- Necessary for the growth and repair of body tissues
- Maintains heart health and reduces the risk of heart disease
- Supports bones and joint health, and reduces symptoms in early rheumatoid arthritis [4-6]
- Improves immune function
- Helps heal wounds faster
- Prevents iron deficiency and anemia
- Helps to reduce blood pressure
- Improves skin health
- Good for hair, nails and teeth
- Supports brain health
- Reduces stress
- Offers some reduction to the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration
- Davis et al. Liposomal-encapsulated Ascorbic Acid: Influence on Vitamin C Bioavailability and Capacity to Protect Against Ischemia–Reperfusion Injury. Nutr Metab Insights. 2016
- Sreerag Gopi and Preetha Balakrishnan. Evaluation and clinical comparison studies on liposomal and non-liposomal ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and their enhanced bioavailability. J Liposome Res. 2021
- Moritz et al. The role of vitamin C in stress-related disorders. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2020.
- Brzezińska et al. Role of Vitamin C in Osteoporosis Development and Treatment—A Literature Review. Nutrients. 2020
- Ripani et al. Vitamin C May Help to Reduce the Knee’s Arthritic Symptoms. Outcomes Assessment of Nutriceutical Therapy. Med Arch. 2019
- Li et al. Associations between dietary antioxidants intake and radiographic knee osteoarthritis. Clin Rheumatol. 2016