Edible bio-based nanostructures: delivery, absorption and potential toxicity

Joana T. Martins*, Óscar L. Ramos, Ana C. Pinheiro, Ana I. Bourbon, Hélder D. Silva, Melissa C. Rivera, Miguel A. Cerqueira, Lorenzo Pastrana, F. Xavier Malcata, África González-Fernández, António A. Vicente

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The development of bio-based nanostructures as nanocarriers of bioactive compounds to specific body sites has been presented as a hot topic in food, pharmaceutical and nanotechnology fields. Food and pharmaceutical industries seek to explore the huge potential of these nanostructures, once they can be entirely composed of biocompatible and non-toxic materials. At the same time, they allow the incorporation of lipophilic and hydrophilic bioactive compounds protecting them against degradation, maintaining its active and functional performance. Nevertheless, the physicochemical properties of such structures (e.g., size and charge) could change significantly their behavior in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The main challenges in the development of these nanostructures are the proper characterization and understanding of the processes occurring at their surface, when in contact with living systems. This is crucial to understand their delivery and absorption behavior as well as to recognize potential toxicological effects. This review will provide an insight into the recent innovations and challenges in the field of delivery via GI tract using bio-based nanostructures. Also, an overview of the approaches followed to ensure an effective deliver (e.g., avoiding physiological barriers) and to enhance stability and absorptive intestinal uptake of bioactive compounds will be provided. Information about nanostructures’ potential toxicity and a concise description of the in vitro and in vivo toxicity studies will also be given.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-513
Number of pages23
JournalFood Engineering Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Absorption enhancers
  • Bioactive compounds
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Intestinal absorption
  • Nanoparticles


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