A nutraceutical is a food that contains health-promoting additives and has medicinal benefits. In the United States, the term nutraceutical has no legal definition. The ingredients and claims under which the substance is marketed place determine whether the regulation relates to a drug, food ingredient, dietary supplement, or food. In Canada, nutraceuticals take the form of food or drug that provides protection from chronic diseases. There is currently a dire lack of regulation in the global market, which may result in serious product quality issues.
A product that contains food nutrients in a capsule or liquid form is known as a dietary supplement. The US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, defined dietary supplements as a product taken orally that contains a “dietary ingredient” used to enhance the daily diet. Ingredients may include:
- amino acids
- organ tissues
The supplements take the form of capsules, tablets, gelcaps, soft gels, powders, or liquids. In the US, dietary supplements do not need approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they marketing. Manufacturing companies, however, must register their facilities with the FDA.
When a food substance is enriched or fortified during its processing and the product is then marketed as a beneficial additive to buyers, it is called a functional food. On occasion, this means something like adding a complementary nutrient such as vitamin D to milk.
Canada defines functional foods as those that have added ingredients or components to give the food added physiological or medical benefits. All functional foods in Japan must meet three requirements: are in their naturally occurring form, are consumed as often as daily, and regulate a biological process to restrict or control a disease.
Nutraceutical, a blend of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical, was first used in 1989 by Stephen L. DeFelice, founder and chairman of the Foundation of Innovation Medicine. But the use of the nutritional benefits of food to acquire and sustain good health has been in place for centuries in many cultures. Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of Western medicine, was an advocate of the healing powers of good food.
Types of Nutraceuticals
In the US, a new product that comes on the market as a supplement falls into one of three categories:
In the US, the term “food,” in the context of nutraceuticals, means a natural source of nutrition that has beneficial aspects when consumed. The foods cannot use statements that label them as a product that will make the consumer healthier.
Supplements may use “nutritional support statements” and may be capable of offering nutritional support for a nutrient-deficiency disease. They must also add to the label a statement that the advantages of the supplement have not been assessed by the FDA, and it is not to be used to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.
In 1990, the US Congress defined “medical food” as a food created for ingestion, or administered orally or rectally under medical supervision, and meant for particular dietary control of a condition or disease that require specific nutritional requirements, based on a proven scientific study, and confirmed by medical evaluation.
Medical food usually is prescribed by a health care administrator or pharmacist in the US In the UK, these foods would necessitate a prescription.
The Brain-Gut Connection
Scientists call the gut a person’s little brain, or the enteric nervous system (ENS). This brain controls digestion, beginning when food is swallowed and continuing to the enzymes that break the food down, to the blood flow that allows the nutrients to be absorbed, to elimination.
The ENS causes all matter of illnesses including simple diarrhea and constipation. It turns out that stress and depression, for example, do not contribute to chronic gut disease, but instead are the catalyst for central nervous system (CNS) triggers, such as mood changes.
As a result of this finding, scientists are finding that putting the proper nutrients in the gut can affect all kinds of diseases and illnesses.
Pros and Cons
- medical foods offer a cost-efficient alternative to pharmaceuticals in some cases
- petition for health claims must pass scientific and regulatory review
- the FDA’s 1999 Guidance for Industry: Significant Scientific Agreement in the Review of Health Claims for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements (SSA) allowed for consensus from the community of scientists to agree that a claim is factual
- nutraceuticals less likely to have side effects
- supplements a less expensive medical option
- health claims on all types of nutraceuticals apply to consumption by healthy people
- possible dangerous interactions with certain allergies, for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- possibly unsafe for children
- the potential for toxicity if administered by untrained individuals
- overdose may occur
- the possibility of false claims as to benefits
Classes of Functional Foods
Chondroitin and Glucosamine
These two substances are naturally occurring and are formed by sugar chains. They are useful for maintaining the flexibility and fluid in joints and possibly osteoarthritis.
Ubiquinone is a possible treatment for coenzyme Q-10 deficiency. It has also reduced the symptoms of a mitochondrial disorder that affect energy production in the body’s cells.
This nutraceutical may treat coenzyme Q-10 deficiency and mitochondrial disorders. It has also been used to prevent migraines, lower blood pressure, prevent a second heart attack and slow early Parkinson’s disease progression.
Generically known as omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, this supplement comes from specific types of fish, vegetables, and other plants. Since these oils do not naturally occur in the human body, they must come from food. This oil lowers the levels of triglycerides in the body, which must occur to avoid coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes. It is meant to accompany a daily exercise program and a healthy diet. These fats are an ingredient in some medications used for dry eyes.
Lovaza is another nutraceutical used for lowering triglyceride levels. It has been an effective treatment when partnered with a low-fat diet. Lovaza is what is called a lipid-regulating agent.
This supplement contains a humanly made hormone that is produced in the brain and regulates the sleep and wake cycle. It has shown to be efficacious for treating individuals with insomnia and sleeping issues for people who are blind.
L-Carnitine is a naturally occurring substance the body needs for energy.
Scientifically known as S-adenosylmethionine, SAMe is a chemical that is produced in the body and has been used to treat depression and osteoarthritis. It is possibly an effective treatment for liver dysfunction during pregnancy and for those suffering from fibromyalgia, nerve complications with AIDS, and sexual dysfunction in men with depression.
Carnitor SF Solution
This solution is used to treat metabolic problems that could cause low levels of levocarnitine. It is a derivative of amino acid.
This acid is an antioxidant found in foods such as yeast, broccoli, spinach, organ meats, and potatoes. It is thought to be useful in the treatment of obesity, diabetic nerve pain, healing wounds, improving discoloration of the skin caused by vitiligo, lowering blood sugar, and decreasing problems related to coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
The acid has been used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, liver problems caused by alcohol, heart-related nerve issues, altitude sickness, HIV-related brain disorders, and diabetes-related eye problems.
Known as L-tryptophan, this substance may treat bipolar disorder and mental depression. The decision to take aminomine should be made jointly with your doctor.
This powder is a metabolic agent and works by decreasing blood levels of homocysteine to treat homocystinuria, which puts an individual at high risk for a stroke.
This amino acid is used to treat glutamine deficiencies or loss due to injury or illness. It affects the growth and function of the cells in the stomach and bowels.
A fat found in soybeans, egg yolks, and other foods, lecithin may be an effective treatment for liver disease. Lecithin has treated gallbladder disease, dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease, age-related memory loss, high cholesterol, manic-depressive disorder, improved athletic performance stress, insomnia, and Parkinson’s disease.
An amino acid, Me-500 is used to acidify urine. It also may neutralize ammonia in the urine.
Niacin is a vasodilator and lipid-lowering agent that releases histamine to improve circulation. The histamine release causes the blood vessels to dilate which also breaks up a protein that is necessary for blood clotting. By lowering the formation of lipids in the blood, it also lowers triglycerides and cholesterol.
Illnesses Treated with Nutraceuticals
Since the western world has taken on such problematic eating habits, the list of diseases and disorders treated by the use of nutraceuticals continues to increase. Diseases and illnesses that have successfully treated with these supplements include:
- dental problems
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s Disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- gluten therapy resistant celiac
- cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke)
- acute and chronic gastrointestinal infections
- respiratory and urinary tract infections
- inflammatory bowel disease
Who Needs Nutraceuticals?
Now that more and more experts are accepting as fact that you must get the nutrients you from your food, everyone seems in agreement that humans, in general, need neutraceuticals. If an individual is not getting the nutraceuticals he or she needs from food, which is often the case, that person needs to get their nutraceuticals from another source. If not, your body will suffer.
Because so many foods are refined and processed, many of the nutrients in them are disappearing. And even though advertisers say many foods are “fortified,” you must take the proper steps to ensure that you are ingesting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Which Nutraceuticals are Best?
Nutraceutical supplements come in three grades:
Pharmaceutical grade nutraceuticals are strictly tested for quality and purity and have no binders (substances to hold the tablet or liquid together in a mix), dyes, fillers, excipients (bulking agents for stabilization), or other unknown substances. Pharmaceutical-grade supplements are metabolized more efficiently, making them more bioavailable (able to enter the circulation when introduced to the body).
Many physicians are using a more thorough blood-testing regimen to discover vitamin deficiencies and hormonal imbalances. Often, they find that a nutraceutical would be a better choice than a prescription medicine. This practice alone is a good reason to choose a competent doctor,
A trusted physician will also monitor the levels of vitamins, minerals, and hormones to ensure that their patients use the correct dosages and to discover toxicity if it is present. Patients can receive functional nutraceutical blood testing to quickly find any deficiencies and receive your doctor’s advice on a course of therapy.
Testing, before a disease has taken hold, can allow physicians to discover deficiencies before they become a disease. Such a proactive approach includes regular exercise, stress reduction, and eating well.
- Be open with your personal physician about your use of nutraceuticals. Discuss your desire to use a particular nutraceutical with your doctor to avoid the possibility of any side-effects.
- When you work together with your family doctor, your wellness will improve in myriad ways.
- You also need to research, read, share and discuss all there is to know about nutraceuticals. Research information that verifies the veracity of the nutraceutical’s claim. The more educated you become, the more your body will thank you for taking such good care of yourself.
- When you are attempting to learn more about specific supplements or foods, go to a reliable source. Medical studies and scientific research sites are your best resource.
- Even vitamins can cause side effects of one type or another. Interactions with other substances you ingest are just one example. Interactions of supplements with prescribed medicines can be even more dangerous. Follow the instructions on the label of the nutraceutical carefully.
Johns Hopkins has endorsed the Mediterranean diet as a disease-fighting tool. They say it: decreases cholesterol levels, enhances the body’s ability to absorb blood sugar, and levels-out damaging inflammation.