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Dietary Supplement Delivery Systems – Which Form is Best?



Dietary supplements cover a diverse group of products that range from botanicals and proteins, to antioxidants and vitamins. And while they vary greatly in form and function, there is one common bond that unites their place in human health – they require an often unseen partner that comes in the form of a nutrient delivery system.

In short, delivery systems are designed to allow each supplement’s active ingredients to be presented to the body in consumable form, making them easily released and absorbed by the body. NOW offers a number of unique delivery systems that include hard shell capsules, tablets, softgels, liquid concentrates, liquid extracts, powders, and even effervescent powders. And although these systems deliver essentially the same nutrients, their function can differ greatly based on the manner in which each one shuttles nutrients to specific regions of the body.

Hard Shell Capsules

The most common delivery system provided by NOW Foods is the hard shell capsule. Hard shell capsules are available in a vast assortment of sizes, however NOW has traditionally offered #1, #0, and #00 sizes. A #1 size capsule is the smallest, with a typical fill level of 350 mg. Next, we have the #0 capsule – one that generally holds anywhere from 350 to 550 mg. Finally, there is the #00 capsule. This large capsule casing can easily handle amounts that range as high as 950 mg. With regard to capsule composition, NOW uses three varieties of capsules, including gelatin (animal derived), hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (vegetarian), and a new polysaccharide matrix that is also vegetarian. Each hard shell capsule is required to disintegrate in water within 30 minutes by specification, and all are tested with every incoming lot. To the delight of many users, hard shell capsules are renowned for being much easier to swallow than tablets and capable of delivering nutrients more quickly.


The next type of delivery system commonly sold by NOW is tablets. A large assortment of tablets is available today, and include those that are either coated or uncoated, chewables, lozenges, time and/or sustained release, as well as enteric coated. In most cases, NOW uses an aqueous coating solution to coat tablets. This safe, protective external barrier provides a smooth layer for ease in swallowing, protection from oxygen, light, and moisture, and masks the sometimes undesirable tastes associated with certain active ingredients. In the event that a product does not require these barriers, a tablet may be left uncoated. This is a measure that’s employed to help eliminate additional costs that would otherwise be passed on to consumers.

NOW offers several chewable tablets that are flavored to allow customers the freedom of chewing the tablet prior to swallowing. Chewable tablets are a much welcomed option for individuals who experience difficulty swallowing, or prefer not to swallow, tablets or other pills; especially children. A lozenge is similar to a chewable, however this type of tablet is designed to remain in the mouth without chewing until completely dissolved. Though lozenges may vary in size, they’re often used to deliver nutrients that have a tendency to absorb more effectively through the lining of the mouth, as opposed to the stomach or small intestines. Time and sustained release tablets incorporate special excipients (non-active ingredients) that control the release of nutrients over a specified time period. These excipients are typically derived from cellulose (purified wood fiber) and minimize moisture penetration that results in a sustained, controlled release. Enteric coated tablets also control the release of nutrients by keeping them intact for intestinal disintegration, and thus capable of bypassing the harsh acidic conditions of the stomach. But like the majority of today’s modern delivery systems, enteric coating is pH sensitive and has been shown to function better in an alkaline environment, as opposed to those that are strongly acidic. It is designed to pass through stomach acid intact.


Similar to the protective shells that line today’s best capsules, softgels are usually made from gelatin. The contents inside the softgel are suspended in oils that create an ideal delivery system for lipid and fat soluble nutrients such as CLA, Vitamin E and others. Additionally, nutrients such as fish oils can be encapsulated in softgels to curtail the negative tastes and aromas inherent to these oils. The outer shell of any softgel can contain opaque materials such as carob to mask the appearance of the contents, while providing additional protection from light. The base, or oil, forms layers within the softgel that help provide additional protection from oxygen permeability. Like hard shell capsules, softgels are fairly easy to swallow and strongly preferred by users who experience difficulty when it comes to swallowing larger tablets.


Shifting our focus from pills to liquids, NOW manufactures an extensive and ever evolving assortment of products that contain nutrients in concentrated liquid suspensions. This type of delivery system is ideal for individuals who enjoy complementing their beverages with additional nutrients, as well as those who prefer to reduce their consumption of pills. Liquid concentrates can include water, glycerin, and lecithin as a base, along with natural flavors and colors that enhance taste and texture, sometimes with minimal amounts of the most natural preservatives that can do the job.

Liquid concentrates require meticulous, skillful design to ensure the control of microbial contamination and proliferation. Additionally, they may require preservatives such as grapefruit seed extract, potassium sorbate, and on occasion, sodium benzoate. Some liquid concentrates are homogenized to facilitate emulsions (blends) for products that contain both water and fat soluble compounds. Special equipment is essential in creating emulsions – the reduction of fat globules to very small spheres, enabling the complete dispersion of nutrients. From an efficacy perspective, all liquid concentrates should be refrigerated after opening to ensure freshness through the life of the expiration date and prevent mold growth (if exposed after opening).

NOW’s liquid extract offerings may contain natural solvents—typically water, food grade alcohol, and/or glycerin. These are used to extract soluble components from the raw materials. Liquid extracts are usually taken in liquid form, and can be done so in a manner that allows generous potencies from surprisingly small quantities. The ingredients used for extraction are freshly harvested in order to provide nutrient profiles that reflect potency and quality. This type of delivery system also includes a wide variety of compounds; as opposed to more specific, dedicated isolates.


Our two remaining delivery systems are remarkably similar in nature, pure powders and effervescent mixes. Both are dry powders and are offered in either pure forms or formulas created and manufactured by NOW. Pure powders are highly versatile with regard to application potential, however they do require the end user to control the dosage and coordinate delivery in their favorite beverages. Formulated powders generally contain flavors and colors, and are included for the sole purpose of complementing their appeal as an addition to water or other liquids. Like powders, effervescent products contain a number of ingredients, with the most important coming from acids and bicarbonates that result in the production of carbon dioxide when combined with water. Effervescence tends to eliminate the need to stir or mix the solution, and provides a pleasant bubbly effect.

With such a large and technologically impressive selection of delivery systems available, the choice really boils down to the user’s own preference. Today’s advanced delivery systems are remarkable in their ability to enhance nutrient bioavailability, provide supplement versatility, and offer options to individuals based on their specific nutritional needs and preferences. Anyone willing to take the time to learn more about them will be well on their way to supplementation that’s tailored to their taste, tolerable and in many cases, much more efficacious.

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