We live in an age when good nutrition practices (eat lots of whole grains, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables; hold the fatty meat and hydrogenated vegetable oils) are simple, straightforward and widely available. But visit a well-stocked health food store, pharmacy or supermarket, and you’d never know it. The variety of dietary supplements can be overwhelming, with dozens of vitamins, minerals and extracts offered alone and in combinations targeted at every possible intersection of age, sex and activity. And that selection is a nutritional desert compared to the tropical rain forest–level diversity of supplements at more specialized stores.
Nutraceutical, a portmanteau of nutrition and pharmaceutical, refers to extracts of foods claimed to have a medicinal effect on human health. The nutraceutical is usually contained in a medicinal format such as a capsule, tablet or powder in a prescribed dose.
More rigorously, nutraceutical implies that the extract or food is demonstrated to have a physiological benefit or provide protection against a chronic disease. Functional foods are defined as being consumed as part of a usual diet but are demonstrated to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions.
Dietary supplements are big business in the
But whereas some, or perhaps many, nostrums are no more likely to improve longevity, alertness and athletic performance than the cure-alls of old were to ward off dropsy or nervous agitation, not all can be so easily dismissed. Several once exotic dietary supplements have been the focus of investigation for more than a decade now, and a select few can boast strong quantitative support as a result. One group in particular, the nutraceuticals, is attracting the attention of health advocates and scientists alike.
Occupying a space somewhere between essential nutrients (those nutrients critical to normal health, such as vitamins) and drugs with defined impacts on specific diseases, nutraceuticals are bioactive chemicals derived from foods but taken as supplements at much higher concentrations than diet alone could provide. They include antioxidants from fruits and berries, fatty acids found in cold-water fish, and potentially disease-fighting compounds from common spices such as cinnamon and turmeric. Claims have been made for their role in everything from fighting cancer and cardiovascular disease to maddeningly vague notions about “supporting healthy living.”
“The category of nutraceuticals is really very broad, and their effects may be subtle,” says Paul M. Coates, director of the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health. “That gives you a clue to the scientific challenges of understanding them. They range from supplements where we don’t even know what the active ingredients are to compounds that are well characterized chemically but where the mode of action is still unknown.”
To date, most nutraceuticals have been the subject more of marketing hype than of methodical clinical testing, and for many, it is not even yet known whether they provide more benefits than risks for consumers. But in at least a handful of cases, the science is starting to catch up with the health claims.
Examples of claims made for nutraceuticals are resveratrol from red grape products as an antioxidant, soluble dietary fiber products, such as psyllium seed husk for reducing hypercholesterolemia, broccoli (sulforaphane) as a cancer preventative, and soy or clover (isoflavonoids) to improve arterial health. Such claims are being researched and many citations are available via PubMed to ascertain their foundation of basic research.
However, among the above examples, only the effect provided by psyllium as a fiber product has been sufficiently documented in human clinical trials to receive approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration for health claim statements on product labels.
Other nutraceutical examples are flavonoids antioxidants, alpha-linolenic acid from flax seeds, beta-carotene from marigold petals, anthocyanins from berries, etc. With the US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), several other compounds were added to the list of supplements originally mentioned in FDA notification. Thus, many botanical and herbal extracts such as ginseng, garlic oil, etc. have been developed as nutraceuticals.
Nutraceuticals are often used in nutrient premixes or nutrient systems in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Very few of these products, however, have sufficient scientific evidence proving health benefits to consumers. Consequently, few have FDA approval for making health claims on product labels.
Source: Wikipedia, Nutraceuticalmag.com & Sciam.com