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Recently I have been researching the topic of anti-inflammatory drugs, looking for something that might help my husband’s psoriasis. My sister suggested a curcumin supplement, the active ingredient in tumeric. But curcumin, like many substances, is characterized by its low bioavailability. Once swallowed, the digestive tract makes quick work of curcumin, so only a fraction of it ever reaches the bloodstream where it might do some good. This is not just an issue with curcumin – it’s true of most substances. The whole subject (or problem) of oral bioavailability is pretty fascinating. Over time, we have developed some simple ways of increasing the bioavailability of the various things we eat, mostly through heating them and concentrating them into more potent oils and tinctures. Indeed, Indians have been cooking their tumeric in ghee (clarified butter) for thousands of years.

This is where a closely related technology comes into play: encapsulation. Encapsulation slows down the absorption of substances and allows them to spend more time in our bodies, increasing bioavailability. Encapsulation technologies are as old as cooking itself, and range from the primitive to the technologically sublime. The earliest and simplest encapsulation methods used in cooking probably included the antecedents to today’s burritos, sandwiches and knishes. The hot dog bun, with its symmetrical capsule-shaped halves, is an intriguing example of one substance being used to more efficiently deliver a second. I haven’t studied the history of capsule making, but I suspect not much has changed since we started putting drugs into enterically-coated casings in the 1940′s.  But nanotechnology has changed everything in recent years.  

In researching curcumin, I came across a paper (available for sale here) that describes how the author, a student at Rutgers, combined some relatively simple ingredients (curcumin, modified starch)  in a relatively simple way to increase the oral bioavailability of curcumin by more than 1700 times.  The new technique involves encapsulating substances in liposomes - lipids that provide the chemical equivalent of the hot dog bun – but on a nano scale. This experiment has already been replicated in part by these guys, who have been investigating other liposomal encapsulation processes (using lecithin) to increase the bioavailability of Vitiman C. 

It’s crazy to think that DIY scientists working in their kitchens and universities conducting human trials are all zeroing in on the same thing at the same time.

So in response to the promising success of these experiments, I am planning a test of my own, using the modified starch described in the Rutgers paper with the specific mixing techniques of the Vitamin C researchers. It’s going to take a few days to get the ingredients and equipment together. In the meantime, I need to find a practical way to measure my results, as I don’t have access to the fancy equipment used at Rutgers to measure the actual levels of curcumin achieved through the encapsulation technique. I suppose I could start by feeding the modified curcumin to my husband and observing the effects, but that seems premature. Obviously, there’s so much more to learn and discuss here and admittedly, I am just skimming.  I will have updates as my plans solidify.

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