What are Nutraceuticals

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This term is practically a composition of two words – nutrition and pharmaceutical. Nutraceuticals are foods which provide medical benefits (scientifically proven) in order to fight and prevent chronic diseases. The products considered to be nutraceuticals are all fortified foods, dietary supplements and specific diets. For example, Omega3 pills are nutraceutical as they contain an isolated nutrient which is derived from a food source, in this case cod liver.

Dietary supplements

Good points

These products are usually in the pill or powder form and are a useful tool used to treat nutrient deficiencies. However, there are many claimed benefits of supplements related to the general improvement of life. We have all taken some ‘vitamins’ at some point of our lives but usually they are most needed during childhood and the later years of life.

In childhood – the body is developing very rapidly and consumes a lot of energy and nutrients especially essential for bone strength and brain development.

With age tissues of the body start to degrade thus putting us on risk to become ill in many different ways. The repair processes in the body after injuries are much slower therefore a proper nutrition is vital during this stage of life.

Bad points

Nutraceutical industry is less regulated than pharmaceutical it means that there are less clinical trials needed and scientific evidence therefore in order to bring a new product on a market is easy. Supplements are freely available to buy in any pharmacy without a receipt.

From the nutritionist point of view dietary supplements are not the ideal way to provide yourself with essential nutrients. If a patient needs an urgent dose of nutrient for short period of time it is acceptable to use pills. However along with supplementation the dose should be reduced but the natural source-food increased.

We all have heard about side-effects of drugs. What about dietary supplements? Side effects are usually consequence of over-dosing and pro-longed use. Unlike in pharmacology dietary supplements ‘escape’ the crucial 10 year development processes which involve complete research including more or less long-term effect research. The side-effects or adverse effects of nutritional supplements are at the same scale as the one of drugs. Nutrients to be exact are strongly involved in the body mechanism mainly as coenzymes and the body’s building material. Can’t too much of it be dangerous? Indeed it can. From mild effects like constipation to severe toxicity and liver failure they are in many ways similar to the harm of drug overuse.

How to choose and use dietary supplements?

Best way is to consult with someone who knows exactly about your problem and can actually do calculations of how much of a nutrient you need daily and advice the best product depending on your individual needs. Don’t rely on magazines, a shop assistant’s knowledge or your friend. Pay a visit to dietician or exercise physiologist if you are an athlete.

Choose the product carefully if you are doing it on your own. There are many people who have a bad experience with supplements therefore much information on internet available about ‘bad’ products. Try to investigate the clinical relevance of the claimed benefits of the supplement. Even if sometimes stated – clinically proven – it doesn’t mean that the substance has been researched for long-term effects etc. Read reviews in independent and objective sources. My advice – research which foods are rich in the particular nutrient and try to introduce them in your diet.

On the packaging almost definitely it should show exact amount of substance in it. Usually the amount is approximately the same as daily allowance or requirement and sometimes even higher. However not 100% of the supplement will actually be absorbed (that’s one of the big minuses) therefore just one capsule might not exceed your requirements.

Remember that what you eat might also contain the same nutrient you are supplementing so be careful to not exceed as it adds up.

If an expert told you to take one capsule a day – than take just one. Supplements are similar to drugs – too much of it can cause totally opposite effects of what you wanted.

Fortified foods

This part of nutraceutical industry works with adding essential minerals and vitamins to foods. Enrichment however is adding the micronutrients to foods which would be otherwise lost during processing. Fortification of foods is associated also with the term – functional foods. These would be products which contain micronutrients which in naturally would not be otherwise found in them thus a new function or benefit is introduced.

Here are some commonly fortified foodstuffs which have been proven to be very helpful in the fight against common deficiencies:

Iodized salt

Iodine deficiency is the greatest threat for mental and the endocrine health. In the regions of higher relief there are greater risks to become deficient as the soil does not contain appropriate amounts of Iodine which would then be absorbed by plants and animals. Naturally rich in Iodine is certain seafood and sea kelp.

Folic acid addition to flour

Especially advised for mothers -to be folic acid is crucial component in reactions of cell growth and division. Also known as B9 deficiency can cause anaemia and neural tube effects in developing embryo. Bread fortified with folic acid is becoming more and more popular. Natural sources of B9 are leafy vegetables (spinach, asparagus), eggs, liver and legumes.

Niacin in bread

Pellagra is a consequence of niacin deficiency. People at risk might also be alcoholics, HIV patients and cancer sufferers. Most common symptoms are dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Rich in niacin or B3 are liver, tofu, dates, tomatoes and many other foods.

Vitamin D in dairy

Vitamin D is commonly added to dairy products and oils in order to prevent Rickets. This is very important micronutrient for children, elderly and people who generally have little sun exposure. However you can also find it in salmon, mushrooms, eggs and beef liver.