Food Engineering Reviews

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 491–513 | Cite as

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
Review Article


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.


Nanoparticles Bioactive compounds Gastrointestinal tract Intestinal absorption Absorption enhancers 



Joana T. Martins, Óscar L. Ramos, Ana C. Pinheiro, Ana I. Bourbon, Hélder D. Silva and Miguel A. Cerqueira (SFRH/BPD/89992/2012, SFRH/BPD/80766/2011, SFRH/BPD/101181/2014, SFRH/BD/73178/2010, SFRH/BD/81288/2011, and SFRH/BPD/72753/2010, respectively) are the recipients of a fellowship from the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT, POPH-QREN and FSE, Portugal). The authors thank the FCT Strategic Project PEst-OE/EQB/LA0023/2013 and the project “BioInd–Biotechnology and Bioengineering for improved Industrial and Agro-Food processes,” REF.NORTE-07-0124-FEDER-000028, co-funded by the Programa Operacional Regional do Norte (ON.2—O Novo Norte), QREN, FEDER. We also thank to the European Commission: BIOCAPS (316265, FP7/REGPOT-2012-2013.1) and Xunta de Galicia: Agrupamento INBIOMED (2012/273) and Grupo con potencial de crecimiento. The support of EU Cost Action FA1001 is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joana T. Martins
    • 1
  • Óscar L. Ramos
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ana C. Pinheiro
    • 1
  • Ana I. Bourbon
    • 1
  • Hélder D. Silva
    • 1
  • Melissa C. Rivera
    • 1
  • Miguel A. Cerqueira
    • 1
  • Lorenzo Pastrana
    • 3
  • F. Xavier Malcata
    • 2
  • África González-Fernández
    • 4
  • António A. Vicente
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre of Biological Engineering (CEB)University of MinhoBragaPortugal
  2. 2.Laboratory for Process Engineering, Environment, Biotechnology and Energy (LEPABE), Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of EngineeringUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal
  3. 3.Biotechnology Group, Department of Analytical Chemistry and Food ScienceUniversity of VigoOurenseSpain
  4. 4.Immunology, Institute of Biomedical Research (IBIV), Biomedical Research Center (CINBIO)Universidade de VigoVigoSpain

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