In recent times, nanotechnology has either soared in admiration or drawn skepticism, depending on whom you consult. What once appeared as a concept fit for sci-fi narratives is today’s reality.
Picture this: a household gadget no bigger than a microwave, capable of producing, crafting, and fabricating food and supplements at a fraction of traditional costs. It might seem far-fetched, but it’s already upon us.
A 2019 research by the National Institute of Health reveals that nanotechnology can now infuse medicines into food and supplements. While the prospects of nanotechnology are thrilling—potentially tackling diseases and extending lifespans—there’s a segment of experts voicing concerns about potential misuse of this breakthrough. (1)
Join us as we delve deeper into the realm of nanotechnology, its implications for food and supplements, and the ensuing debate about its safety and efficacy.
What is Nanotechnology, Really?
The roots of nanotechnology can be traced back to Dr. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize recipient. However, it’s Dr. Eric Drexler, another prominent scientist, who’s often heralded as the pioneer in introducing the concept to the masses. At its core, nanotechnology revolves around manipulating atoms to alter the fundamental structure of matter.
(2) An alumnus of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Drexler was captivated by the prospect of microscopic engineering from the outset.
Drexler’s groundbreaking book, “Engines of Creation; The Coming Age of Nanotechnology” penned in 1987, brought the startling strides in nanoscale engineering into the public spotlight.
Within its pages, Drexler enumerated how nanotechnology held transformative potential in various sectors, including:
- Green energy solutions
- Pollution control
- Alleviation of poverty
- Advances in skincare and nutraceuticals
- Innovations in food and dietary supplementation
Today, these aren’t mere forecasts. Nanotechnology has etched its mark across these fields. Yet, it’s its application in food and supplements that continues to stir debates and draw scrutiny.
Balancing Advancements with Caution
Consider this: the latest iPod boasts a storage of 256GB and tips the scales at just a tad over 3 oz. This is a quantum leap from its ancestor, which had a mere 5GB storage and weighed slightly above 6 oz.
It’s truly awe-inspiring to witness the pace at which technology evolves, transitioning swiftly from “microtechnology” to the realm of nanotechnology.
While the market is burgeoning with products enhanced by nanotechnology, it’s essential to tread with caution. Every technological advancement comes with its set of potential perils, and this is especially true for domains like food and dietary supplements.
Indeed, nanotechnology promises breakthroughs in addressing and perhaps even curing chronic health ailments through dietary interventions. However, it’s paramount for regulatory bodies, such as the United States government, to exercise diligent oversight, ensuring the safety and efficacy of these innovations.
Let’s be candid—most individuals might be oblivious to the very existence of nanotechnology, especially in the context of supplements. And for those in the know, their understanding could be cursory at best. Add to this the fact that manufacturers are essentially navigating uncharted waters, it’s evident why some experts harbor reservations about the welfare of consumers.
Until rigorous human clinical trials vouch for their safety, nanotechnology-infused supplements should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism, considering the potential health implications.
Nanotechnology’s Role in Nutritional Supplements
Bioavailability is a challenge when it comes to certain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Often, these compounds aren’t easily soluble, limiting the body’s ability to absorb and utilize them. Typically, over-the-counter supplements aren’t sold in their pure form. Instead, they incorporate “functional ingredients” to aid in delivering these nutrients more effectively.
While these functional ingredients serve a purpose, they can sometimes alter a supplement’s taste, shelf life, and texture. This is where nanotechnology steps in with its unique proposition—delivering nutrients using “nanoemulsions” without any compromise on taste or texture.
An intriguing study revolved around the delivery of curcumin—a compound hailed for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes, though human trials are yet to solidify these claims. Curcumin’s inherent drawback lies in its water-insolubility. Following digestion, only trace amounts, if any, remain. Rutgers University, however, harnessed nanoemulsions to encapsulate curcumin, enhancing its bioavailability and, subsequently, its anti-cancer potential.
When the mice were administered this encapsulated curcumin, there was an 85% reduction in edema—a clear testament to nanoemulsion’s power in boosting bioavailability. Yet, the study didn’t shed light on potential short-term or long-term adverse effects, an aspect that warrants further investigation. (3)
Caution in the Face of Innovation
Though the acceleration in absorption and heightened bioavailability brought about by nanotechnology can be enticing, it’s imperative to also recognize and grapple with the potential hazards.
Some critics posit that nanotechnology exemplifies a scenario where technological advancements sprint ahead, leaving science lagging in its wake. While studies affirm that nanotechnology can amplify absorption rates of certain supplements, the full spectrum of potential toxicities and side effects remains largely uncharted.
While stringent regulations govern traditional dietary supplements, especially vitamins and minerals, there’s a glaring absence of guidelines when we venture into the domain of phytochemicals.
This regulatory void is a pressing concern for food scientists and ethicists. Evidence vouching for the safety and efficacy of nanotechnology in supplements is scant. While the Food and Drug Administration oversees dietary supplements, the jurisdiction over technology rests with the Office of Combination Products.
Reflecting these apprehensions, the Institute of Food and Science has unequivocally articulated that until more comprehensive research is undertaken, nanotechnology in food and dietary supplements should be approached with a presumption of potential harm.