Nanotechnology: Little Things Are Making Big Waves In the Dietary Supplement Industry


Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has reached star status as a supplement ingredient because when you get it to the right places in your body, it can work wonders. The trick, however, is getting it there. “CoQ10 does not like to disperse in the gastrointestinal tract,” Mark Bartlett, vice president of global research and development for Provo, Utah-based supplement manufacturer Pharmanex, told Nutrition Business Journal. In fact, according to Bartlett, less than 20% of CoQ10 actually makes it beyond the digestive system.

Frustrated by the poor bioavailability of this expensive nutrient, Pharmanex (which is part of the global network-marketing company Nuskin Enterprises) began investigating new delivery forms for its supplements containing CoQ10. A solution involving nanotechnology impressed Pharmanex’s team the most and became the means to boosting the bioavailability of the company’s CoQ10 by five to 10 times, Bartlett said. So far, nanotechnology has been applied to the CoQ10 and beta-carotene in Pharmanex’s Lifepak Nano product.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating matter at the nanoscale for industrial application. Nano-sized particles are measured on a scale of nanometers and are typically about 1/5000th the width of a single human hair.
Despite its aura of newness, nanotechnology has been around for a very long time. For example, Nano particles found in nature reinforce spiders’ webs. Still, nanotech is relatively new to the nutrition industry. Pharmanex’s application of nanotech involves the ring-shaped glucose molecule cyclodextrin that is used in numerous applications ranging from agriculture to pharmaceuticals, where it is employed to enhance drug delivery. Cyclodextrin has received generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Because we’re dealing with ingestible foods and supplements, safety is our primary concern at Pharmanex,” Bartlett said. “Fortunately we’re using nano-encapsulation technology that has been around for a couple of decades, and are just applying it to natural nutrients rather than drugs.”

Like many nutritional companies, Pharmanex has found some exciting new possibilities in this science of the teeny tiny. Yet, just as nanotechnology promises great developments in nutritional science, it also is raising some pretty big questions—and causing some to question the safety of this technology’s use in dietary supplements and other ingestible products. In January, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) issued a report that argued the FDA lacks the necessary resources and authority to regulate the safety of dietary supplements produced with nanomaterials.

Poised to explode on the scene, the future success of this incredibly multifaceted technology depends on how well the industry can self-regulate, how the FDA and other regulatory bodies end up addressing it, and how well the industry can explain its benefits and assure its safety to consumers.

NBJ explores the role of nanotechnology in the direct supplement industry in our upcoming U.S. Nutrition Industry Overview Issue, which will publish in July. To order a copy of the issue, subscribe to NBJ or download a free 32-page sample issue of the journal, go to www.nutritionbusinessjournal.com

Related NBJ links:

CoQ10 Sees Stable But Modest Growth in U.S.
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