Dr Sanjay Agrawal
Leading Pharmaceutical Consultant and Editor-in Chief of IJMToday
“The physical body is the product of diet and sensory input (lifestyle). Similarly, all diseases are the result of non correct diet and lifestyle. Diet and lifestyle, wholesome and unwholesome are the foundations of health and illness.”
– Caraka Samhita Sutrasthana (1, 28:45)
Hippocrates (460-377 B.C), father of modern medicine rightly said, ` Let food be thy medicine` nearly 2500 years ago. In human health, nutraceuticals play a major role in the maintenance of health and in the treatment of diseases without any side effects.
Research over the past several decades has primarily focused on different nutraceuticals. With the ever -changing lifestyles of humans due to industrialization, heavy work pressure, hectic schedules, consumption of junk food – the level of antioxidant defense mechanism systems in the body are often overloaded resulting in oxidative stress. With age, the levels of antioxidant defense mechanism decrease appreciably. This has resulted in increased incidence of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, various cancers and vascular diseases. Nutraceuticals help in boosting the body`s antioxidant defense system.
In recent years, to combat the rise of diseases, a new diet health paradigm has evolved. People have become very concerned about their health status and have started incorporating more fruits, vegetables, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals, phytotherapeutic substances and other plant foods to prevent diseases and achieve a better quality of life.
What are Nutraceuticals
Foods containing phytochemicals are known as nutraceuticals. The term `Nutraceutical` derived from “Nutrition” and “Pharmaceutical” was first coined by Dr.Stephen De Felice in 1989.
Nutraceuticals often referred to as phytochemicals are natural bioactive , chemical compounds extracted from their original food matrix, possessesing therapeutic properties to promote health and prevent diseases. Nutraceuticals, in broad, are food or part of food playing a significant role in maintaining well being, enhancing health, modulating immunity and thereby preventing as well as treating chronic diseases. It provides physiological health benefits as well as medicinal implications.
Nutraceuticals are medicinal foods that can be characterized as dietary fibers, prebiotics, Probiotics, polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and other different types of herbal/ natural foods. Major constituents of the nutraceuticals are herbal products, various nutrients, dietary supplements that help in preventing different diseases and minimizing pathophysiology of the disease too.
Role of nutraceuticals in health promotion
Extensive scientific research which has linked foods of plant origin and health has resulted in the understanding that plant bio-active compounds have antioxidant and other health-promoting properties. Nutraceuticals with various bioactivities towards human body are known for their ability to provide health benefits.
Anti-oxidant activity – Nutraceuticals have free radicals scavenging capacity. Nutraceuticals with antioxidants property prevent several neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson`s, Alzheimer’s. Nutraceuticals that possess considerable antioxidant activities are onion, garlic, grapes, parsley, turmeric, spinach, rosemary and hip rose.
Mitochondrial bioenergetics – Mitochondria-targeted nutraceuticals (MTN) have antioxidant effects at the molecular level, implicating in the prevention and treatment of heavy exercise related to mitochondrial dysfunction.
Gastrointestinal health – Herbal nutraceuticals like Probiotics play a unique role for healthy digestive function. Nutraceuticals have the ability to reduce antigenic and oxidative stress in the gastrointestinal tract. Flavonoids and polyphenols show antioxidant activity and act as gastroprotective and cytoprotective agents.
Renal and excretory health – For promotion of healthy urinary oxalate excretion, provides protective activity on kidneys, improve healthy urinary bladder health and sphincter tone and to balance calcium accumulation, formation of calcium and oxalate crystals and to maintain normal microbial flora in the bladder and urinary tract, nutraceuticals like magnesium citrate, pine bark of pycnogenol, pygeum, potassium citrate, IP6, lutein, lycopene, Astaxanthin play a significant role.
Reproductive health – In both male and female reproductive ability, nutraceutical food supplements like ubiquinone Q10, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Pycnogenol, Flax seed oil, Fish oil plays a significant role. In males, it controls male infertility, increases sperm count, increases sperm motility and cures sperm dysfunction. They also prevent oxidative damage to sperms. In females, it reduces problems caused during menstruation, reduces the risk of preterm labor, reduces the damage of oocytes in fallopian tubes and encourages embryonic growth and development.
Stem cell growth – Nutraceuticals like blueberry, green tea, catechins, carnosine, Vit D3, PUFA, essential Amino acids produce significant effects on stem cell growth and proliferation. They also help in healing and tissue regeneration by stimulating and recruiting endogenous stem cell at the site of injury.
Prolonging life span – Caffeic acid and Rosmarinic acid found in fruits, vegetables and herbs are anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant, anti-rheumatic and anti-microbial. They help to prolong a healthy life span. Nutraceuticals present in citrus fruits and soybean has effects on epigenetic modifications, autophagy and necrosis.
Nutraceuticals in disease prevention
Nutraceuticals are non-specific biological therapies used to promote wellness, prevent malignant processes and control symptoms. They act as immune boosting, a natural antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-obese, anti-diabetic, cardioprotective, organ protective agents in addition to different health-promoting effects. They provide protection against non-communicable diseases, delay the ageing process, increase life expectancy and overall improve the function of the body.
- Cardiovascular diseases – In the prevention and treatment of CVD, nutraceuticals like Flavonoids, flavones, flavanones, quercetin in onion, cruciferous vegetables, blackberries, cherries, berries, apples, omega 3 fatty acids and other antioxidant vitamins and minerals are used to reduce the risk of death from CVDs.
Polyphenol found in grapes helps to prevent and control arterial diseases. Flavonoids found in onion, apples, cherries, red wine, vegetables block the ACE and strengthen the tiny capillaries that carry oxygen and essential nutrients to all cells. Green tea enhances humoral and cell-mediated immunity while decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Cancer – Epidemiological studies prove that dietary factors may modify carcinogenesis. Antioxidant activities of carotenoids, lycopene are effective for cancer. A number of phytochemicals, as well as chemo preventive components of some plant origin foods, possess anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic properties.
Soy foods are a source of Iso-flavones, curcumin from curry and soya isoflavones possess cancer chemo preventive properties. Recent research states that herbal nutraceuticals have the ability to alter the metastatic spread of cancer.
- Diabetes – Soy isoflavones, omega 3 fatty acids lower the incidence of diabetes, promotes insulin sensitivity, reduces glucose tolerance and brings blood sugar normal.
- Obesity – Nutraceuticals such as ephedrine, caffeine, ma huang-guarana, chitosan and green tea help in body weight loss.
- Anti-inflammatory activities: Cucurmin which is a polyphenol of turmeric have anti-carcinogenic, anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Linoleic acid found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, vegetable oils such as evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil, hemp seed oil, cyanobacteria and from spirulina, is used for treating problems with inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
- Osteoarthritis – Nutraceuticals like condroitin sulfate, glucosamine, diacerin, banana, ginger, green tea, pomegranate, boswellia, oxaceprol, tipi, willow bark, Cucurmin, avocado, soybean, collagen hydrolysate are used to alleviate the complications of osteoarthritis.
- Oral diseases – Odontonutraceuticals are bioactive phytochemicals that prevents oral diseases. Probiotics are helpful in the prevention of dental caries, gingivitis, periodontitis, halitosis etc.
- Alzheimer`s – Antioxidants like beta carotene, lycopene, curcumin, lutein and lavandula help to slow down the advancement of this disease.
- Parkinson`s – Herbal nutraceutical `Brahmi `is a natural brain tonic that helps in mental peace and relaxation, brain cell rejuvenation. Plant polyphenols, stilbenes, soybean, phytoestrogens, Vit-C, Vit-D, Vit-E, coenzyme Q and unsaturated fatty acids protect against the progression of Parkinson`s disease.
- Vision improving agents: For the treatment of visual disorders, nutraceutical `Lutein` also known as helenien is used. Lutein is found in dark leafy greens such as kale, collards and bokchoy, mangoes, tomatoes, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes and squash.
Nutraceuticals have proven health benefits and their consumption (within their acceptable recommended dietary intakes) will keep diseases at bay and allow humans to maintain an overall good health. They are widely accepted by all age groups due to their safety, higher quality, purity, efficacy, health promoting and disease curing activities. Thus, make food thy medicine along with proper daily intake of nutraceuticals to keep medications away.