The growing trend for functional foods that include 'good-for-you' ingredients – like omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and vitamins – into food and drink products specifically designed for health benefits is only half of the story when it comes the way the industry is changing and improving the way it delivers nutraceuticals to consumers.
But what else can the industry be doing, and can the way pharmaceutical companies are approaching bioactive delivery teach you a thing or three?
Bioavailability and stability
Whatever the final product type, the design of a more sophisticated nutrient delivery systems - that can offer increased bioavailability, better shelf life and targeting - is becoming increasingly important.
Indeed, writing in Trends in Food Science & Technology John Gleeson and colleagues from University College Dublin add that a bioactive compound only has potential for health benefits if and when presented in appropriate oral delivery formats that allow for ingestion and good bioavailability.
This is especially true in cases where new products seek to combine two or more ingredients that may have negative interactions with each other are combined into the same formulation, they noted - adding that technologies already used for the delivery of such ingredients into food and supplement formats include emulsion technologies, gelation, and spray drying.
The use of micro- and nano-encapsulation, for example, can offer a variety of advantages in terms of stability, bioavailability and biological activity. The potential for nano-carriers like nano-emulsions, liposomes, micelles and cyclodextrins have all been explored for their potential use in nutraceutical delivery, they said.
Furthermore, Dr David Julian McClements from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests that hydrogel beads have ‘considerable potential’ for encapsulating, protecting, and releasing nutraceuticals within the food industry. In a recent Food Hydrocolloids paper he comments that the functional performance of hydrogel beads can be controlled by selecting appropriate biopolymers, cross-linking agents, and preparation methods to fabricate them. As such there is a good chance of overcoming some of the challenges currently limiting the of nutraceuticals in functional foods.
Looking to pharma
The pharmaceutical industry uses a wide selection of commercial approaches to provide innovations in oral delivery. According to Gleeson and his team, these include the use of solubilising technologies for small molecules, “which could be applied to selected nutraceuticals with solubility issues.”
Other approaches explored by the pharmaceutical industry include entrapment in protective delivery vehicles, strategies for enhanced mucus penetration and epithelial permeation, as well as incorporation of excipients as protease enzyme inhibitors, the Irish team noted.
“There is an opportunity for the nutraceutical industry to leverage the pharmaceutical industry's progress in oral drug delivery,” they said. “The use of delivery approaches using formulation with excipients or substances with a history of use in man has potential to improve solubility, stability, or permeability of nutraceuticals, leading to improved oral bioavailability.”
“Leveraging oral delivery formulation approaches across nutraceutical and pharmaceutical molecules will lead to synergies for both fields.”
Progress has also been in adopting in adopting pharma-style oral delivery strategies to improve solubility and stability, the team added – noting that solubilisation technologies have been suggested as a method to overcome issues associated with the delivery of hydrophobic compounds like resveratrol and curcumin in lipid-based systems.
“Absorption enhancement is an area yet to be used for improving oral nutraceutical delivery,” Gleeson and colleagues noted. In particular, mucolytics and intestinal permeation enhancers (Pes) “hold potential to improve absorption of both lipophilic and hydrophilic nutraceuticals (…) particularly as many of these are food-grade and/or food additives,” they said.
One issue posing a major challenge translating pharma-style delivery innovations to the nutra space is the fact that all formulation materials must be food-grade and have a history of safe use in humans.
According to a 2012 book chapter by Dr Maryann Augustin and colleagues from the CSIRO in Australia this can present an opportunity to modify the functionality of available food grade materials and use new and emerging modification and isolation technoogies to develop new food grade materials that are more functional as nuraceutical delivery vehicles.
“There is also a need to develop low allergenic encapsulant materials and non-protein delivery systems, due to allergenicity issues associated with protein ingredients,” they added – noting that although a variety of non-protein delivery materials already exist, many of them are chemically modified “and therefore they are not appealing to companies looking for a natural or clean label.”
In addition to the expensive technologies and delivery systems that could be directly adapted from pharma, Yuwen Ting and colleagues added that in order to maximize the potential of nutraceutical delivery systems, more pharma-style in vivo pharmacokinetic studies and clinical trial are needed. They argue that such research it vital to confirm the usefulness of specific delivery systems and identify technologies that can improve bioavailability and efficacy.
In this case, it is clear that much money must be invested if ‘big nutra’ want to try and utilise some of the technologies that have been so successful for ‘big pharma’ in recent years.
As such, Augustin suggests that where costly materials and processes are the only possible solution, the benefits offered by the delivery system must either clearly outweigh the cost, or the final product must be able to bear the additional cost.
“Often, the cost and not the technology availability will be a limiting factor when it comes to adapting delivery systems technologies in the food industry,” she said.