Interfacial & colloidal aspects of lipid digestion

P. J. Wilde, B. S. Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

214 Citations (Scopus)


Amongst the main issues challenging the food manufacturing sector, health and nutrition are becoming increasingly important. Global concerns such as obesity, the ageing population and food security will have to be addressed. Food security is not just about assuring food supply, but is also about optimising nutritional delivery from the food that is available [1]. Therefore one challenge is to optimise the health benefits from the lipids and lipid soluble nutrients.

Colloid scientists have an affinity for lipids because they are water insoluble, however this presents a challenge to the digestive system, which has to convert them to structures that are less insoluble so they are available for uptake. Despite this, the human digestive system is remarkably effective at digesting and absorbing most lipids. This is primarily driven through maximising energy intake, as lipids possess the highest calorific value, which was a survival trait to survive times of famine, but is now an underlying cause of obesity in developed countries with high food availability.

The critical region here is the lipid-water interface, where the key reactions take place to solubilise lipids and lipid soluble nutrients. Digestive lipases have to adsorb to the oil water interface in order to hydrolyse triacylglycerols into fatty acids and mono glycerides, which accumulate at the interface [2], and inhibit lipase activity. Pancreatic lipase, which is responsible for the majority of lipid hydrolysis, also requires the action of bile salts and colipase to function effectively. Bile salts both aid the adsorption of co-lipase and lipase, and help solubilise the lipolysis products which have accumulated at the interface, into mixed micelles composing bile salts and a range of other lipids, to facilitate transport to the gut mucosal surface prior to uptake and absorption.

The process can be affected by the lipid type, as shorter chain, fatty acids are more easily absorbed, whereas the uptake of longer chain fatty acids, particularly the very long chain n-3 fatty acids from fish oils are dependent on source and so may depend on food microstructure for optimal uptake [3]. The uptake of some poorly water soluble nutrients are enhanced by the presence of lipids, but the mechanisms are not clear. In addition, controlling the digestion of lipids can be beneficial as slower release of lipids into the bloodstream can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and can promote gut feedback processes that reduce appetite.

This presents an opportunity to colloid and interfacial science, as there are many unanswered questions regarding the specific physicochemical mechanisms underlying the process of lipid digestion and uptake. I will review our current knowledge of lipid digestion and present examples of how fundamental research in colloidal and interface science is beginning to address these issues. These include the adsorption behaviour of physiological surfactants such as bile salts; interfacial processes by which different polar lipids can influence lipolysis; and the effect of emulsion based delivery systems on cellular uptake of lipid soluble nutrients.

A fundamental understanding of these processes is required if we are to develop intelligent design strategies for foods that will deliver optimal nutrition and improved health benefits in order to address the global challenges facing the food sector in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-22
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science
Issue number1
Early online date11 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Food
  • Colloids
  • Interfaces
  • Lipid digestion


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