Bioavailability is a term that is growing in popularity like the surge in CBD, but why is it so important and does it really make a difference? Bioavailability is the amount of an active ingredient that is absorbed into the bloodstream so that the active ingredient can be effectively activated in the body. Dietary supplements like vitamin C have little problem getting absorbed into the bloodstream and activated in the body because they are considered water-soluble. However, dietary supplements like vitamin D3, omega 3, curcuminoids, and cannabinoids like CBD have difficulty being absorbed by the body because they are fat-soluble. This means that they do not dissolve well in hydrophilic (water-loving) media such as the human body. Instead, these fat-soluble supplements are transported through our digestive system before they get into the bloodstream and break down along the way. Since the body breaks down the dietary supplements, this means that significantly less active ingredient is absorbed by the body. This is why bioavailability is so important, especially when it comes to fat-soluble compounds like CBD.
In fact, bioavailability is an essential part of improving the customer experience with products like CBD. Traditional oral products such as oils and capsules have absorption rates of around 10% or less. That means the customer pays $ 60 for a bottle, but it’s only worth $ 6! However, there are ways to fix this experience. There are home hacks that a customer can do to improve bioavailability. For example, simply consuming a high-fat snack like nuts, hemp hearts, or avocado before taking a CBD supplement – or a fat-soluble dietary supplement – can increase the rate of absorption three to five times. Black pepper has also been touted for improving the rate of absorption at home, but the rate of increase is not made public.
While eating fatty foods can be the ultimate way to improve absorption, companies have set out to improve absorption in order to make their products easier and better for the customer while making a marketable difference in their product over their competitors . Whether it’s emulsifying the active ingredients into a liposome, breaking the compounds down into nanoparticles, or even bio-imitating Mother Nature herself, there are ways to make a product shine when the customer ingests it.
But while these pathways exist, what does science tell us about their effectiveness? When it comes to conducting a clinical trial, especially on CBD, the science is expensive and often inconsistent (if a company has done it at all). There are products that market an absorption of 80% or more which, unless the product is injected into the bloodstream (and thus a drug), will be greatly overestimated. Rather, current research on bioavailability hacks is comparable to consuming a high-fat snack and is often slightly lower, improving by one and a half to two times compared to traditional methods. So while not everyone can or will incorporate their dietary supplement regiments into their meals, bioavailable formulas offer a simple solution to improving the customer experience.
Another aspect of bioavailability is safety in the body. There are manufacturing methods like liposome technology and bio-mimicking processes that create a more natural way in the body to improve absorption. With liposome technology, safety is more defined than with nanotechnology. Nanotechnology breaks the compounds down into tiny (nanometer-sized) particles, with the aim of making the compounds so small that they can get into the bloodstream without being broken down in the liver. The problem with nanotechnology is understanding the pharmacokinetics of nanoparticles and how they actually absorb, distribute, metabolize, and excrete (ADME) in the body. To date, the FDA has provided little guidance or advances in ADME safety research related to nanoparticles.
The ultimate goal of bioavailability is to ensure that the active ingredients bypass the liver’s first pass metabolism so that the CBD or fat-soluble compounds can enter the lymphatic system, where it is absorbed into the blood. Various methods are marketed, but not all do adequate research; However, requesting absorption data from manufacturers who claim improved bioavailability can help brands navigate the decision-making process. In addition, while various methods exist to achieve this improved absorption goal, liposomal and bio-mimicking methods offer better known safety profiles than nanotechnology.
Annie Rouse is COO at OR innovations and is a board member of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and the US Hemp Agency.