How to Pick the Best Liposomal Vitamin C (Plus Risks + Benefits)
There’s little doubt that vitamin C is of great benefit to the human body. However, how you consume vitamin C makes a huge difference in the amount your body is able to absorb and use (a feature of all supplements called “bioavailability”).
Liposomal (or pro-liposomal) vitamin C is a groundbreaking option for high-dose vitamin C.
Between 14-30% of the vitamin C consumed in supplement form is actually absorbed by the body. ( Source 1) That number can vary greatly depending on your own vitamin C needs and the type of supplement you take. Consuming five servings of raw foods high in vitamin C per day, such as berries, kiwi, broccoli and citrus, will provide about 200 mg of vitamin C. Adding supplemental vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, the equivalent form of vitamin C found naturally in foods, will increase blood levels further, but natural absorption of vitamin C above an intake of about 200 mg decreases sharply by 50%. ( Source 2) This may be because our bodies use certain transporters of vitamin C in the small intestine called Sodium-Dependent Vitamin C Transporters (SVCT -1) which will absorb efficiently only up to a certain point. In addition any excess absorbed vitamin C becomes excreted in urine to maintain a small tight control on plasma concentrations. This is where liposomal vitamin C has an advantage.
Liposomes are phospholipid containing microscopic spheres that carry vitamin C at their core. Their absorption does not depend on vitamin C transporters like SVCT-1 but rather on direct fusion of the liposome with the small intestinal cells resulting in direct intracellular release of the vitamin C and eventually into the blood circulation.
Not only does liposomal vitamin C have a substantially higher absorption rate than conventional vitamin C supplements, it comes with its own host of health benefits. This is due to the phospholipids it uses to surround, or encapsulate, the vitamin C — the very mechanism that allows it to bypass the slow vitamin C transporters present in the gut. In this article, I discuss the definition of liposomes and how to choose the best liposomal supplement, and potential side effects.
What are liposomes?
Liposomes are actually similar to cells. The same phospholipids that make up cell membranes also make up the outer shell of liposomes. The inner and outer walls of the liposome are made up of phospholipids, the most common being phosphatidylcholine, to create a lipid bilayer. A double layer of phospholipids (phospholipid bilayer) creates a sphere around an aqueous (water containing) component, such as dissolved vitamin C.
Because the liposomes' outer shells imitate our cell membranes, liposomes can “fuse” with certain cells upon contact, delivering the liposome's content to the cell. This is the scientific advantage of the liposomal delivery system.
Liposomes were discovered in the 1960s, but scientists have only scratched the surface of their far-reaching applications. This novel delivery system offers a targeted method to get nutrients into the bloodstream without being destroyed by the digestive enzymes and acid found in the digestive tract and stomach respectively.
What is liposomal vitamin C?
In the case of liposomal vitamin C (also known as simply liposomal C), these phospholipids encapsulate vitamin C at their core.
As mentioned above, liposomes are thought to fuse with the cells responsible for absorbing nutrients making up the gut lining called enterocytes. Because they bypass the normal mechanism of absorbing vitamin C through slow vitamin C receptors type 1 (sodium dependent vitamin C receptors SCVT 1), the bioavailability is much higher than standard vitamin C supplements. ( Source 3 )
Taking a liposomal form of vitamin C is much more effective and efficient than traditional methods of vitamin C supplementation in terms of absorption.
5 Benefits of Liposomal Vitamin C
Taking standard vitamin C (ascorbic acid) offers several benefits to the human body. These benefits may be magnified when taking liposomal C.
The best understood advantage is that liposomal vitamin C has a much higher bioavailability than standard vitamin C.
Bioavailable simply means how well it absorbs into your system. As we already mentioned liposomal vitamin C supplement allows your small intestine to absorb more of the nutrient than a standard supplement.
A 2016 study in 11 human subjects found that vitamin C encapsulated in liposomes increased vitamin C levels in the blood by more than 50% compared to an un-encapsulated (non-liposomal) supplement at the same dose (4 grams). ( Source 4 )
Liposomal vitamin C’s bioavailability is only outstripped by intravenous (IV) vitamin C. IV vitamin C which has 100% bioavailability by definition, but is much more invasive, as it requires a needle insertion, a specially trained facility, and 1-3 hours of time for the slow infusion.
High doses of IV vitamin C are used most frequently in conjunction with cancer treatment and provide a pro-oxidant effect which can ONLY be achieved with very high IV doses of vitamin C. The pro-oxidant effect of high dose IV vitamin C is very different than that of low doses of vitamin C which provide anti-oxidant activity.
2. Heart and Brain Health
Vitamin C intake (via diet or supplements) may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 25%, according to a 2004 analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition . ( Source 5 )
Any form of vitamin C supplement improves endothelial function, as well as ejection fraction. ( Source 6 )
Endothelial function involves the contraction and relaxation of blood vessels, enzymatic release to manage blood clotting, immunity, and platelet adhesion. Ejection fraction defines “the percentage of blood that is pumped (or ejected) out of the ventricles” when the heart contracts on every beat.
Together, these results suggest that vitamin C may play an important part in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and improvement of heart health.
After a stroke or heart attack, it’s important to heal the tissues damaged by the lack of oxygen. Once blood flow is restored, the reoxygenation of previously oxygen-deprived cells leads to damage to tissues called reperfusion, accompanied by “excessive generation of free radicals”. ( Source 7)
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can counteract and neutralize the oxidative stress caused by reperfusion when delivered intravenously. ( Source 8 )
In one animal study, liposomal vitamin C prevented brain tissue damage from reperfusion when administered before blood flow was restricted. ( Source 9 )
Although blood levels achieved by IV infused vitamin C are much higher than liposomal vitamin C, one study observed that liposomal vitamin C was nearly as effective as IV vitamin C at preventing tissue damage during reperfusion. The research was conducted in 11 subjects who had temporary obstruction of blood flow to their arms blood flow by tourniquet. ( Source 4 )
Intravenous vitamin C can be used in high doses to fight cancer in tandem with traditional chemotherapy. It may not eradicate cancer on its own, but it can definitely improve the quality of life, increasing energy and mood for many cancer patients.
On a case by case basis, IV vitamin C can even induce regression of cancer. A 2014 review recounts several reports of remission when using IV vitamin C with chemotherapy. ( Source 10 )
However, one should not rely on IV vitamin C to induce remission or treat cancer on it’s own, as these cases are isolated at best.
Liposomal vitamin C has not been specifically tested in human subjects with cancer. Many cancer patients receiving adjunctive IV vitamin C, however, also use liposomal vitamin C in high doses between IV treatments. After receiving a high dose of IV vitamin C, it is not uncommon to for blood levels to drop below normal in the days after the infusion. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to increase oral intake levels of vitamin C between IV vitamin C infusions especially to prevent low rebound trough plasma levels of vitamin C.
4. Collagen Production
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the Animal Kingdom, though our body’s natural collagen production slows around the age of 25. Vitamin C is a cofactor in the enzymes that produce collagen, meaning it is necessary to the function and health of your bones, blood vessels, and joints where collagen abounds. ( Source 11 )
5. Oxidative Stress
In general, some level of oxidative stress occurs within every living thing. As a 2006 review puts it:
“There is increasing evidence connecting oxidative stress with a variety of pathological conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic inflammatory disease, post-ischaemic organ injury, diabetes mellitus, xenobiotic/drug toxicity, and rheumatoid arthritis.” ( Source 12 )
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is found in generous quantities within the human body. ( Source 13 )
Although the use of standard antioxidant supplements, like vitamin C, should serve as an effective protection against oxidative stress, there is little evidence that it makes a significant difference in the resulting cellular damage.
Is liposomal vitamin C truly effective?
There has been a lot of scrutiny of liposomal vitamin C.
One of the most frequently asked questions about liposomal supplements is: Is liposomal vitamin C a "hoax"?
True liposomal or pro-liposomal supplements are non-toxic and can greatly increase your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients inside. Because of extensive equipment and technology needed to manufacture them, liposomal supplements tend to be more expensive than conventional vitamin C. However, they do deliver superior absorption.
But how do we know which products are "true" effective liposomal vitamin C ?
The term “liposomal” is not well defined, however, as opposed to the term “liposome”.
A liposome is a spherical structure made out of a shell formed by phospholipids and surrounded by water. At the center of a “liposome” is usually a main ingredient, like vitamin C or glutathione, also suspended in water.
“Liposomal” does not mean “liposome” — these terms are not one and the same. The term liposomal is sometimes loosely used to mean “containing fat”.
Because of this , some products labeled as “liposomal" vitamin C don’t utilize “liposome” delivery at all. Instead, they simply contain a lipid (fat) and some vitamin C. The lipid form that some supplements use is not even a phospholipid, they can simply be in the form of a fatty acid.
These forms are labelled “liposomal” vitamin C but might never result in formed liposomes, even when exposed to water because the vitamin C is simply covalently bound to a fatty acid, no a phospholipid, which is the molecule traditionally needed to form a lipid bi-layer when exposed to water.
A perfect example of this is an ester of vitamin C (usually labeled as lipid "soluble" vitamin C) is marketed as a “liposomal” supplement that implies a higher absorption.
Ascorbyl palmitate is one such example. It binds palmitate (an ester) to vitamin C (ascorbic acid). This antioxidant is often used to extend the shelf life of certain foods, medications, and cosmetics.
However ester forms of vitamin C, like ascorbyl palmitate, are almost fully digested after oral ingestion by enzymes in the small intestine which cleave the bond immediately releasing gain just plain vitamin C (ascorbic acid molecule) and the ester, in this case palmitate, before any absorption can take place. Because plain vitamin C is formed from the ester, no improved absorption occurs when compared to a standard vitamin C supplement. ( source 15 , source 16 )
The esters used may even have a negative impact, depending on the ingredient itself.
Ascorbyl oleate is very similar to the former compound, binding oleate to ascorbic acid. Very little is known about cetyl ascorbate other than that it is esterified vitamin C.
The bottom line is this: These “lipid-soluble” forms are not exactly "liposomal" vitamin C and may not offer the benefits of absorption in the same way as true liposomal delivery. Unfortunately, this results in unassuming customers paying top dollar for a product that is no different than a standard vitamin C capsule or powder.
So, to answer the question: Liposomal vitamin C is not a “hoax”, but not all products labeled liposomal vitamin C truly offer the same benefits.
How to Choose the Best Liposomal Vitamin C Supplement
Several brands offer liposomal vitamin C supplements. Which vitamin liposomal vitamin C supplement is the best?
There are two basic types of liposomal supplements. The first is a formed liposome, while the other is a pro-liposome.
The simplest way to tell if a product is a formed liposome is if the ingredients include water. If water is in the ingredients, you are likely dealing with formed liposomes.
A pro-liposome has the potential to become a liposome when exposed to water, forcing the phospholipids to immediately congregate by natural hydrophobic forces into a bi-layer as described above.
A pro-liposome can come in the form of a powder or a liquid.
In the form of a powder, the vitamin C is surrounded (conjugated) by a layer of phospholipids and other fats in a special technical process that can greatly vary in effectiveness. How well this proprietary process of binding the lipids to the vitamin C occurs is key, because if the lipids and the vitamin C are only mixed together (not bound), the formation of liposomes with vitamin C inside will be sporadic at best as the vitamin C can just disperse away separately from the lipids.
Liquid pro-liposomes use lipids (fats) and vitamin C. Based on special manufacturing techniques, the lipids form liposomes around the main ingredient when they are exposed to water and correct temperature conditions, as are found the environment of the small intestine.
The newly formed liposomes can then be absorbed by the intestinal walls, delivered to and processed by the liver, and released into systemic circulation.
These formed liposomes or pro-liposomes utilize phospholipids, phosphatidylcholine , lecithin, and oleic acid (or a combination of all) as the fatty agent to form liposomes.
Unfortunately, many vitamin C supplements labeled “liposomal” are, in fact, unable to hold the lipid ingredient and vitamin C together when exposed to water in the small intestine.
Make sure the vitamin C is well-sourced. A good liposomal vitamin C supplement should be non-GMO and preferably use phospholipids derived from sunflower lecithin.
Some customers even insist on knowing that the origin of vitamin C is non-Chinese.
Quali-C brand vitamin C is one such source, made in Scotland from non-GMO European origin corn.
Finally, only try liposomal vitamin C that has a satisfaction guarantee with a full refund in the event you aren’t happy with the product.
To summarize: Avoid the gimmicks and purchase a high-quality liposomal supplement by following these steps:
Choose a formed liposomal or a well made pro-liposomal supplement that contains vitamin C and a fatty substance (phospholipids or phosphatidylcholine), but does not include ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbyl oleate, or cetyl ascorbate as they offer no advantage over regular vitamin C.
Look for a dosage around 1,000 mg/day.
Ensure the supplement is non-GMO and soy-, gluten-, and artificial preservative-free.
Avoid products sourced in China.
Look for companies that have positive reviews and offer a robust refund policy.
Dosage of Liposomal Vitamin C
The National Institute of Health advises men and women to never take more than 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C dietary supplement each day.
For specific health issues, a higher dose may be warranted. The Linus Pauling Center recommends a dose of 2,000 milligrams per day, which is safe and can account for poorer absorption capacity in some individuals. People that may benefit most from this high dose include the elderly and smokers, who have an increased need for vitamin C.
Generally, 1000-2000 mg/day should afford you the general health benefits of vitamin C:
Increased antioxidant presence
4,000 milligrams of liposomal vitamin C has been used to protect against the oxidative damage that can happen post-heart attack or stroke due to reperfusion.
While these results are very promising, I suggest remaining at or below the 2,000 milligram threshold unless a healthcare practitioner advises you to take a higher amount, even though the side effects of taking larger doses are not dangerous.
Liposomal Vitamin C Side Effects
Although a high dose of vitamin C may not technically be “toxic”, it may cause side effects like nausea or diarrhea.
Vitamin C interacts with certain drugs or nutrients.
ADD and ADHD medications utilize amphetamines . Vitamin C may weaken the effect of amphetamine-based drugs by limiting their effect, although this result has not been reproduced in human subjects. ( Source 19 )
Liposomal vitamin C is a revolutionary approach to introducing vitamin C into your system.
Liposomes use a phospholipid bilayer formed around water and, in this case, vitamin C. The outer casing protects the nutrient inside from damage that might otherwise occur during normal digestion.
The absorption of liposomal vitamin C is significantly higher than that of a standard vitamin C supplement.
Benefits of liposomal vitamin C include increased bioavailability, cardiovascular support, skin health, cancer protection, increased collagen production, and reduced oxidative stress throughout the body.
While many supplements are labeled as “liposomal,” some of these use esters of vitamin C (ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbyl oleate, and/or cetyl ascorbate) that do not actually increase the bioavailability of vitamin C and are not true "liposomal" or "pro-liposomal" products.
Standard doses of vitamin C are between 200-1,000 mg/day. We recommend 1000-2000 mg per day.
Yung, S., Mayersohn, M., & Robinson, J. B. (1982). Ascorbic acid absorption in humans: a comparison among several dosage forms. Journal of pharmaceutical sciences, 71 (3), 282-285. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7069582
National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. (2018). Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
Rivas, C. I., Zuniga, F. A., Salas-Burgos, A., Mardones, L., Ormazabal, V., & Vera, J. C. (2008). Vitamin C transporters. Journal of physiology and biochemistry, 64 (4), 357-375. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19391462
Davis, J. L., Paris, H. L., Beals, J. W., Binns, S. E., Giordano, G. R., Scalzo, R. L., ... & Bell, C. (2016). Liposomal-encapsulated ascorbic acid: Influence on vitamin C bioavailability and capacity to protect against ischemia–reperfusion injury. Nutrition and metabolic insights , 9 , NMI-S39764. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4915787/
Knekt, P., Ritz, J., Pereira, M. A., O'Reilly, E. J., Augustsson, K., Fraser, G. E., ... & Pietinen, P. (2004). Antioxidant vitamins and coronary heart disease risk: a pooled analysis of 9 cohorts. The American journal of clinical nutrition , 80 (6), 1508-1520. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15585762
Ashor, A. W., Lara, J., Mathers, J. C., & Siervo, M. (2014). Effect of vitamin C on endothelial function in health and disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Atherosclerosis , 235 (1), 9-20. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24792921
Nour, M., Scalzo, F., & Liebeskind, D. S. (2012). Ischemia-reperfusion injury in stroke. Interventional neurology , 1 (3-4), 185-199. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031777/
Spoelstra-de Man, A. M., Elbers, P. W., & Oudemans-van Straaten, H. M. (2018). Making sense of early high-dose intravenous vitamin C in ischemia/reperfusion injury. Critical Care, 22 (1), 70. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5861638/
Sinha, J., Das, N., & Basu, M. K. (2001). Liposomal antioxidants in combating ischemia-reperfusion injury in rat brain. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy , 55 (5), 264-271. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11428552
Fritz, H., Flower, G., Weeks, L., Cooley, K., Callachan, M., McGowan, J., ... & Seely, D. (2014). Intravenous vitamin C and cancer: a systematic review. Integrative cancer therapies , 13 (4), 280-300. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24867961
Pullar, J., Carr, A., & Vissers, M. (2017). The roles of vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients , 9 (8), 866. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
Suntres, Z. E., & Omri, A. (2006). The role of liposomal antioxidants in oxidative stress. In Nanocarrier Technologies (pp. 191-205). Springer, Dordrecht. Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Arkadiusz_Kozubek/publication/226621426_Pharmacokinetic_Modulation_with_Particulate_Drug_Formulations/links/0912f5064a906069f7000000/Pharmacokinetic-Modulation-with-Particulate-Drug-Formulations.pdf#page=204
Figueroa-Méndez, R., & Rivas-Arancibia, S. (2015). Vitamin C in health and disease: its role in the metabolism of cells and redox state in the brain. Frontiers in physiology , 6 , 397. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688356/
Meves, A., Stock, S. N., Beyerle, A., Pittelkow, M. R., & Peus, D. (2002). Vitamin C derivative ascorbyl palmitate promotes ultraviolet-B-induced lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity in keratinocytes. Journal of investigative dermatology, 119 (5), 1103-1108. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12445199
Dr. Weil: Time for a change? https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/vitamins/vitamin-c-time-for-a-change/
The Linus Pauling Institute: The Bioavailability of Different Forms of Vitamin C: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C/supplemental-forms
De Ritter, E., Cohen, N., & Rubin, S. H. (1951). Physiological availability of dehydro-L-ascorbic acid and palmitoyl-L-ascorbic acid. Science, 113 (2944), 628-631. Abstract: https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19511402702
Cadeau, C., Fournier, A., Mesrine, S., Clavel-Chapelon, F., Fagherazzi, G., & Boutron-Ruault, M.C. (2016). Vitamin C supplement intake and postmenopausal breast cancer risk: interaction with dietary vitamin C. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 104 (1), 228-234. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27194303
Kiely, M.E., Lal, S., & Nair, N.P. (1987). Effect of ascorbic acid on brain amphetamine concentrations in the rat. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry, 11 (2-3), 287-290. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3628833