September 14, 2022

7 Min Read

Evidence exists that humans and our ancestors used plants for medicine tens of thousands of years before the first civilizations emerged.[1],[2] The oldest written records date back at least 5,000 years to a Sumerian clay slab, with a dozen drug recipes referring to more than 250 plants.[3] The majority of today’s pharmaceuticals haven’t really strayed that far from nature, with many derived both directly and indirectly from the plant kingdom.[4]

Since 1921, Milan, Italy-based Indena has been at the modern-day forefront of investigating plants for therapeutic benefits. Its research scientists, for instance, discovered a sustainable way to supply the anti-cancer nutrients from Taxus baccata, the common yew tree, helping support blockbuster oncology therapies beginning in the 1990s. The company continues to devote more than 5% of its annual revenues on R&D, powering more than 100 clinical human studies on dietary supplement ingredients alone.

So, after more than a century of observing nature, Indena has learned a thing or two about how to mimic natural systems to deliver the best of what plants have to offer for human health. One of its greatest breakthroughs: Phytosome™, a food-grade formulation that ensures the vital phytonutrients from botanicals are safely absorbed at higher bioarbsorption levels than unformulated equivalents.

Leading consumer brands rely on Phytosome™ technology to address health benefits that are top of mind with consumers. One such example is Meriva® Curcumin Phytosome™ that has more than 35 studies for a broad range of health conditions.

What is Phytosome?

While people have used botanical medicines for millennia, efficacy of some formulations can be limited because key phytonutrients like flavonoids as well as curcuminoids are not well absorbed into the bloodstream when taken orally.[5] The two main reasons why the body is unable to absorb phytonutrients effectively are related to size and solubility. First, the molecular compounds are not small enough to be absorbed from the intestine into the blood by simple diffusion nor can the intestinal lining absorb them like it can with some vitamins and minerals. Second, specific phytonutrients do not mix well with oils and other lipids, which limits their ability to pass across the lipid-rich outer membranes of enterocyte cells that line the small intestine.


Indena addressed this challenge of bioavailability beginning in the late 1980s—well before the term became a buzzword. —A philosophy at Indena is to allow nature to be a guide as most often nature has usually already engineered an ideal solution to most biological problems. In this case, Indena scientists leveraged the ability of certain water-phase flavonoid molecules to be converted into lipid-compatible molecular compounds called Phytosomes™. These hybrid molecules can more easily mix with oils, slipping into the enterocyte cells and finally reaching the bloodstream.[6] The final Phytosome™ contains the molecule of the active ingredients of the standardized plant extract bound to a phospholipid extracted from non-genetically modified sunflower lecithin.

The Phytosome™ difference

Indena’s proprietary Phytosome™ technology is an elegantly simple yet non-duplicable way of increasing both the solubility and absorption/bioavailability of otherwise poorly soluble and absorbable plant extracts and plant-derived bioactives. The active ingredients are anchored to the polar head of the phospholipids which protects them from the gastric barrier and allows them to be optimally absorbed in the small intestine. These active ingredients can then be measured in plasma. The increased level of absorption improves the efficacy and consistency of the product as demonstrated in numerous clinical studies – without compromising safety.

In contrast, liposome delivery systems are typically lipid-rich substances of diluted active ingredients in a micellar cavity. Liposomes are randomly dispersed immediately in the stomach which makes validating efficacy challenging.

In addition, Phytosome™ is more than just an optimized delivery system for phytonutrients: Research has shown lecithin provides a number of potential health benefits, from lowering cholesterol to fighting dementia.[7],[8] 

Phytosome™ in action

Indena’s vast portfolio of standardized botanical extracts includes nearly a dozen ingredients powered by the company’s proprietary Phytosome™ technology. Numerous studies have demonstrated how this unique delivery system can boost the functionality of nutraceutical formulations with ingredients that are not normally well absorbed by the body. Each Phytosome™ has a specific pharmacokinetic profile for the bioactives resulting in distinct clinical results that can’t be replicated by alternative delivery systems.

In one paper, for example, the researcher noted that using “Phytosomes™ has improved efficacy without compromising safety” for extracts of silymarin, curcumin, green tea and grape seed.[9] A more recent study quantified the improved bioavailability of the company’s Quercefit® Quercetin Phytosome™. In a single-dose, randomized, crossover clinical trial in 12 healthy volunteers, Quercefit® plasma levels were up to 20 times more than unformulated quercetin.[10] A similar study on Ubiqsome® Coenzyme Q10 Phytosome™ also boosted results in plasma levels of CoQ10.[11]


Many other studies have gone beyond simply demonstrating improved bioavailability for botanicals delivered through Phytosome™ technology, but also the numerous health benefits. One such ingredient is curcumin, the collective name for the active phytochemical compounds in turmeric root. Meriva® Curcumin Phytosome™ is backed by more than 35 scientific studies involving more than 2,000 subjects. Research on the Phytosome™-enabled curcumin extract has shown efficacy across a range of health conditions, from healthy blood vessel function[12],[13] to skin health[14] to bone and joint health.[15],[16]

A lot has changed in the last 100 years, but one thing has remained constant—Indena’s commitment to produce sustainable and efficacious products the way nature intended thanks to the Phytosome™ delivery system.


[1] Hardy K et al. “Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus.” Naturwissenschaften. 2012 Aug;99(8):617-26.

[2] Lietava J. “Medicinal plants in a Middle Paleolithic grave Shanidar IV?” J Ethnopharmacol. 1992 Jan;35(3):263-6.

[3] Petrovska BB. “Historical review of medicinal plants’ usage.” Pharmacogn Rev. 2012 Jan-Jun; 6(11): 1–5.

[4] Newman DJ and Cragg GM. “Natural Products as Sources of New Drugs over the Nearly Four Decades from 01/1981 to 09/2019.” J Nat Prod. 2020 Mar 27;83(3):770-803. doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.9b01285. Epub 2020 Mar 12.

[5] Manach C et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2004;79:727-747.

[6] Bombardelli E et al. “Complexes between phospholipids and vegetal derivatives of biological interest.” Fitoterapia 1989; 90 suppl. 1:1-9.

[7] Ramdath DD et al. “Beyond the Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Soy Protein: A Review of the Effects of Dietary Soy and Its Constituents on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease.” Nutrients. 2017 Apr; 9(4): 324.

[8] Poly C et al. “The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Dec; 94(6): 1584–1591.

[9] Kidd PM. “Bioavailability and activity of phytosome complexes from botanical polyphenols: the silymarin, curcumin, green tea, and grape seed extracts.” Altern Med Rev. 2009 Sep;14(3):226-46.

[10] Riva A et al. “Improved Oral Absorption of Quercetin from Quercetin Phytosome®, a New Delivery System Based on Food Grade Lecithin.” Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet. 2019 Apr;44(2):169-177.

[11] Petrangolini G et al. “A New Food-grade Coenzyme Q10 Formulation Improves Bioavailability: Single and Repeated Pharmacokinetic Studies in Healthy Volunteers.” Curr Drug Deliv

. 2019;16(8):759-767. doi: 10.2174/1567201816666190902123147.

[12] Steigerwalt R et al. “Meriva®, a lecithinized curcumin delivery system, in diabetic microangiopathy and retinopathy.” Panminerva Med. 2012 Dec;54(1 Suppl 4):11-6.

[13] Appendino G et al. “Potential role of curcumin phytosome (Meriva) in controlling the evolution of diabetic microangiopathy. A pilot study.” Panminerva Med. 2011 Sep;53(3 Suppl 1):43-9.

[14] Antiga E et al. “Oral Curcumin (Meriva) Is Effective as an Adjuvant Treatment and Is Able to Reduce IL-22 Serum Levels in Patients with Psoriasis Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:283634.

[15] Belcaro G et al. “Product-evaluation registry of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, for the complementary management of osteoarthritis.” Panminerva Med. 2010 Jun;52(2 Suppl 1):55-62.

[16] Belcaro G et al. “Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients.” Altern Med Rev. 2010 Dec;15(4):337-44.

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