The work was done collaboratively with colleagues at the UCL School of Pharmacy (Dr S Somavarapu) and University of Bedfordshire (Dr S Farnaud) and has considerable potential for nutritional and pharmaceutical applications.
According to the World Health Organisation iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutritional disorders worldwide, and poses a significant global health challenge. Fortification of staple foods such as cereals, flour and salt is generally recognised as a cost-effective and convenient approach to counter iron deficiency. However, the iron fortificant compounds in current use are reactive to the enriched food, and also suffer from relatively low dietary absorption.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a known promoter of iron absorption but suffers from the disadvantage of degrading rapidly upon exposure to air, water or heat.
The team used ascorbyl palmitate, a form of ascorbic acid that retains its beneficial properties while having an improved stability profile, to encapsulate the iron salt ferrous sulphate in a protective shell. This concept is unique in that the material used for encapsulation also functions as an absorption enhancer.
In addition, the natural bioadhesive material chitosan was also added to strengthen the capsules and further improve the absorption characteristics. Testing in-vitro using human intestinal cells, demonstrated significantly higher iron absorption from the encapsulated iron than ferrous sulphate alone.
Although further human studies are required for validation, the work so far demonstrates an exciting and innovative approach to iron fortification.
The research was published in the March issue of the journal ‘Colloids and Surfaces: Biointerfaces’, and follows up on the groups previous two publications on iron supplementation in the past year.