Nutraceuticals are products derived from food sources that provide both nutrition and medicinal benefits. Nutraceuticals are also known by the following terms:
These products include dietary supplements, herbal products, and vitamins. They contain a high concentration of bioactive compounds, derived from a natural source, and have physiological benefits and aid in the prevention and treatment of disease.
Nutraceuticals even include everyday foods like pre- and probiotics, fortified cereals, processed foods, and beverages.
Essentially, a nutraceutical is a substance that has a physiological benefit or provides protection from chronic disease.
Nutraceuticals can improve health, delay the aging process, prevent chronic diseases, increase life expectancy, or support the structure and functioning of the body. They are also used in the prevention and treatment of mental health issues and disorders.
The term “nutraceutical” was coined in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice who was the founder and chairperson of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine located in Cranford, New Jersey. DeFelice defined a nutraceutical as a: “Food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease."
The idea of using food for both nutrition and medicinal purposes has been ingrained in many ancient cultures. In fact, the concept of nutraceuticals is nearly 3,000 years old! It began to catch on when Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recognized the relationship between food and health.
Traditionally, the people of India and China consume various natural foods that are medicinal. Countries like Germany, France, and England were the first to consider one's diet more important than both exercise and hereditary factors in people's attempt to achieve good health.
Today, nutraceuticals have evolved from their traditional background to a highly scientific field where the efficacy and safety of the products are backed by evidence, new research, and developing technologies.
How Nutraceuticals Work
A healthy diet contributes to your health by providing the nutrients your body needs to repair itself, grow, and function well. When your diet does not supply enough of these essential nutrients and vitamins, nutraceuticals can act as a supplement.
Nutrients, Metabolism, and Nutraceuticals
Nutrients are the chemical elements that make up food. Nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats provide energy while other nutrients like vitamins, water, electrolytes, and minerals are needed for a healthy metabolism.
Metabolism is a process that involves all chemical reactions that take place in the body to convert the food we eat into energy, which is then used to synthesize compounds needed by all cells of the body. Metabolism maintains the living state of all cells and organs.
The pathways of metabolism depend on the nutrients the process breaks down. If all the nutrients are present in the right amount, our body, including all the organs and systems, function well. This means that your body can heal or repair properly and quickly.
But if you don't have enough nutrients, then your body takes longer to repair, or you might deal with harmful complications. When this happens, nutraceuticals can provide extra nutrients needed for optimum metabolic reaction and for your body to function properly.
Nutraceuticals are broadly classified based on their function, food source, and bioactive components. Most of them fall under two general categories: dietary supplements and functional food.
Dietary supplements are those products that contain concentrated bioactive nutrients from a food source processed into a suitable dosage form. These supplements can contain one or more of the following: amino acids, vitamins, herbs or other botanicals, minerals, important metabolites, and certain enzymes.
Dietary supplements are available in tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids, gummies, energy bars, and any other suitable forms.
Nutraceuticals that fall under the umbrella of dietary supplements not only supplement diet but also promote health and prevent disease.
Functional foods are any food or food ingredient that provides a health benefit other than basic nutrition.
The foods under this category include whole foods and fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that can improve health when consumed regularly as part of a varied diet. Functional food looks like food and is available as pasta, cereal, whole grains, yogurt, snacks, and more.
Functional foods can be:
Traditional Functional Food: These are nutrient-rich natural foods that deliver health benefits other than basic nutrition, such as omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and lycopene in tomatoes.
Non-Traditional Functional Food: These are artificial foods prepared by adding bioactive components to help enhance health and well-being. Examples include fortified nutraceuticals such as juice with added calcium, cereal fortified with iron, flour with added folic acid. Modified functional foods can also include recombinant nutraceuticals, which are energy-producing foods such as bread, yogurt, cheese, and vinegar produced via biotechnology techniques.
Over the past few years, nutraceuticals have become very popular. They're being used an alternative or supplemental treatment along with pharmaceuticals to help prevent and treat a wide range of diseases.
They have attracted considerable interest because of their potential nutritional values, safety, affordability, and multiple therapeutic effects and are often seen as an attractive option to conventional treatments.
Nutraceuticals can play an important role in the body’s various biological processes, which help prevent various diseases and improve overall health and well-being.
Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease
Nutraceuticals play an important role in preventing the onset of chronic diseases and reduce the complications involved. Evidence suggests they are used in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory-based diseases.
Improve Eye Health
Patients with eye disorders and conditions like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and visual disorders can benefit from certain nutraceuticals like Castor Oil eye drops for topical use.
Nutraceuticals like lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, and vitamin E reduce the risk of cataracts. Essential fatty acids like omega-3s are important for visual development and retinal function.
Improve Immune Function
Immune booster nutraceuticals like green tea, blueberries, amino acids, and vitamin D are found to be useful in improving and strengthening immune health and thus help to prevent disease. Black Cumin Seed Oil has been traditionally used to boost immunity and maintain overall health since the beginning of recorded history.
Herbs and plant extracts like echinacea and astragalus help in the development and regenerations of stem cells. The anti-inflammatory effects of garlic can enhance the functioning of the immune system.
Improve Gut Health
Many nutraceuticals like prebiotics, probiotics, flavonoids, aloe vera, resveratrol, and omega-3 and omega-6 acids can restore and stimulate the growth of good bacteria and reduce the effect of harmful bacteria in the gut.
Nutraceuticals are shown to influence inflammation pathways and play an important role in reinforcing the body’s natural gut defence mechanisms.
Support Reproductive Health
Many nutraceuticals, like Shilajit, play an important role in male and female reproductive health. Nutraceuticals help with male infertility and dysfunction and prevent damage to sperm. Certain nutraceuticals can influence hormones and are also used to improve fertility, preconception, pregnancy outcomes in women, and provide support during menstruation.
Nutraceuticals, like Curcumin are showing promising results in the prevention and treatment of inflammation due to the presence of phytochemicals. They can reduce oxidative stress in chronic inflammatory diseases like asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Enhance Sports Medicine
Nutraceuticals are useful in sports medicine as they help athletes improve their performance and reduce oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, which occurs because of heavy exercise.
Particularly, mitochondria-targeted nutraceuticals (MTNs) such as Resveratrol, NMN and Quercetin, have been shown to have antioxidant effects at a molecular level, which improves mitochondrial bioenergetics and leads to better exercise performance and recovery.
Nutraceuticals provide preventative care to the body, which increases life expectancy as it reduces the risk of many diseases and helps the body recover quickly.
Certain nutraceuticals like those present in citrus fruits and soybeans help renew healthier cells and improve gene expression. Some nutraceuticals like NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide) can slow the aging process and thus promote longevity.
Improve Mental Health
Research shows that nutrients and nutraceuticals play an important role in the prevention, management, and treatment of mental health disorders and psychological functioning.
Certain nutrients and nutraceutical compounds including Ashwaganda, Omega-3, vitamins B and D, magnesium, iron, zinc, curcumin, lycopene, and beta-carotene are showing promising results in improving mood, stress, anxiety, depression, and cognitive functioning.
Nutraceuticals with antioxidant properties help prevent neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Other Uses of Nutraceuticals
Here's a look at other benefits of nutraceuticals:
Improve overall health.
Regulate bodily functions.
Improve mental clarity.
Possible Adverse Effects
Compared to pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals are potentially safe and can improve health naturally. However, certain nutraceuticals can have side effects such as allergic reactions caused by interactions with other nutraceuticals or therapeutic drugs.
A few nutraceuticals can also cause toxicity. In addition, many people tend not to disclose nutraceutical use to their physicians, which can result in adverse drug-supplement reactions.
Nutraceuticals have a powerful effect on your body, and that’s why it’s important to consume only the recommended amounts of nutraceuticals. It is also important to talk to your health professional about your symptoms and nutraceutical use.