Electrospun nanofibers may make for better delivery of healthfood supplements

A technique known as electrospinning is showing promise as a way of providing health-food ingredients with protection as they pass through the digestive system(Credit: Robert Lamberts, The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited)

Packing food with nutrients, vitamins and other supplements to improve our health sounds like a simple enough idea, but protecting them as they pass through the digestive system isn't all that easy. While various methods have been employed to encase compounds for more effective delivery, a new technique is showing great promise as a means of keeping them intact. Scientists claim that coating the ingredients in nanofibers created through a process called electrospinning can provide a better safeguard, and could lead to delivery of improved health supplements.

Electrospinning is a technique we have seen in various forms across a number of areas of scientific research. It involves drawing a fluid through an electric field which serves to break the liquid down into microscopic fibers, typically on the micro- or nanoscale. It has been used in the development of dissolving tampons designed to protect against HIV, antibacterial materials and a potential replacement for scar tissue in the heart.

Its promise in the food industry stems from the fact that it can be carried out at room temperature using wet materials, and doesn't require overly complex chemistry. According to scientists from England's University of Lincoln, this gives it an advantage over existing methods of encapsulating supplements, which can damage the structure and the bacteria, as it better caters to the sensitivity of the materials.

The upshot of this is a potentially improved way of controlling the release of chemicals in the body, as the supplements can be better protected while being produced and also as they make their way through the digestive system.

Despite this promise, however, it is still early days. Dr Nick Tucker from the School of Engineering at the University of Lincoln and leader of the study, is looking to build partnerships in the industry to learn more about the possibilities. He says work is needed to advance both the electrospun nanofibers themselves and ways of actually integrating them with foodstuffs.

The research was published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids.

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