Empirical Labs, located in Fort Collins, CO, has a long history in the manufacturing and formulation side of the industry. Founded in 1989, the company predates the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the overarching legislation that created the supplement industry we all know today. The company began as a contract manufacturer, catering to a growing and rapidly changing industry.
“You had to be pretty dedicated to the natural industry to start a company back then,” Empirical Labs president Kelly Goyen told NutraIngredients-USA. “Formulas tended to use everything available from Eastern and Western traditions, including vitamins, minerals and enzymes.”
But Goyen said it became apparent early on that not all was well with the world in this ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach. Customers were using their new found freedom to ask for long lists of ingredients, but Goyen said the question of what these were doing in the body could not be put to rest.
“Even with a great formula the limit seems always seemed to be bioavailability,” Goyen said. “One or more of the ingredients could limit the overall effectiveness because they are poorly absorbed or because they degraded in the stomach.”
Goyen said that concern led the company for a years-long search for a solution. They finally settled on liposomal delivery, the practice of shrouding small particles of active ingredients in a layer of lipids to both protect them in the highly acidic environment of the stomach and to boost their uptake into the bloodstream.
Liposomes as a clean label technology
But the manufacture of liposomes typically involves the kind of inputs and processing steps that make sticklers for what ought to qualify as ‘natural’ raise their eyebrows. Goyen said Empirical Labs is sensitive to these concerns. The first thing to keep in mind is that chemists didn’t invent liposomes; the body did.
“Liposomes are a natural form, humans create them within their bodies,” Goyen said. “This is not the nanotechnology that people think of as something that wouldn’t occur normally in nature and that persists.”
The next thing to keep in mind, Goyen said, is that Empirical Labs worked on the concept in a trial and error fashion for a number of years to come up with a clean label approach before launching the technology to the market almost ten years ago. Liposomal delivery has long been used in the pharmaceutical realm as a delivery mode for certain drugs, but in those cases the manufacturers aren’t much troubled with labeling and perception issues. Consumers are more concerned with what the drug is supposed to do than with how it’s made.
“At that time we decided we needed a better delivery system that would work with both water and oil soluble ingredients. We refined our technique of making the liposomes so that now we can put almost any ingredient into them. We use phosphatidylcholine from non GMO sunflower oil. We took the pharmaceutical technology and developed it into a clean label process, something that we would be comfortable with our children taking on a daily basis,” he said.
“When we entered the market we saw some others who were using some raw materials to make their liposomes that I wouldn’t consider clean label ingredients. We use no hydrogenated lipids, and we don’t use high temperatures or pressures. I believe our process is capable of being certified organic," Goyen said.
Goyen said another difference maker is Empirical Labs’ ability to verify that its liposomes are meeting spec in terms of particle size and uniformity. Molecular scans reveal the the company’s technology delivers a uniform product with distinct globules, not a squishy smear of blobs of varying sizes, Goyen said.
“We wanted to be able to prove we weren’t just making emulsions,” he said.
Empirical Labs uses the technology to deliver hard-to-absorb molecules of interest such as curcumin and resveratrol and the company is working on using its liposomal technique for the delivery of CoQ10, another notoriously poorly-absorbed ingredient. Preliminary results show the approach can boost CoQ10 uptake by as much as six-fold, Goyen said. But the technology can also improve the performance of even easily absorbed ingredients such as vitamin C, he said.
“People say, why would you want to put vitamin C into a liposome? Vitamin C is well absorbed up to about a 200 mg dose and then it falls off rapidly after that. By the time you get to 500 mg it’s all over, and anything above that is pretty much wasted. But if you put it into a liposome your body keeps on absorbing it over time and it stays in the blood stream longer. So blood levels increase, and stay at those higher levels for a longer time,” he said.
Goyen said the company’s technology is another example in the dietary supplements industry of an overnight success that took ten years. The company is getting a lot of interest from the private label professional channel, where delivery mode performance is part of the conversation health care practitioners have with their patients, he said. And the clean mouthfeel of the company’s product, lacking the hard-to-remove, mouth coating quality of some other liposomal products (verified by this reporter) augers well for its wider uptake in the broader market, he said.