When we read the word nutraceuticals, we get an idea of what it is right away – a combination of ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceutical.’ A nutraceutical involves consuming foods, or certain components of foods, in a way that maintains optimal health. The most common nutraceuticals include a range of herbal and natural foods like pre- and probiotics, as well as dietary fiber.
Faced with a rise in health issues like heart disease and diabetes, many people around the world have started turning to diet to maintain positive health. To access the positive effects of healthy food in today’s busy world, nutraceuticals have provided a solution.
The term nutraceutical originated in the late 1980s to mean “a food (or a part of food) that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and or treatment of a disease.” This commonly comes in the form of pills or powder or some other type of medical form and is made up of either isolated nutrients or herbs. In some cases, a nutraceutical will come as a complete genetically engineered “designer” food where the health-promoting properties can be found in beverages, cereals, or even soups.
The reported benefits of nutraceuticals are many and include addressing high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, colds, sleeping disorders—to name just a few. Not only do nutraceuticals improve health, but they have also been used to delay the aging process, increase life expectancy, and improve the function of specific parts of the body.
How Can Nutraceuticals Help You Be Healthier?
Some of the most popular nutraceuticals include green tea, ginseng, glucosamine, cod liver oil, and Echinacea. While nutraceuticals are typically chosen to address a specific issue, many can serve multiple therapeutic purposes. Whereas pharmaceuticals are chosen to treat disease, nutraceuticals have increasingly been chosen to prevent disease.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Probiotics have been used for thousands of years to help support healthy gut bacteria. They are alive microbial feed supplement that helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines. Some of the most commonly used probiotics come from categories that include lactobacilli, gram-positive cocci, and bifidobacterial. They are used to address gastrointestinal concerns and have even been shown to help reduce the symptoms of cancer, infection, allergy, and asthma.
Prebiotics also help to beneficially alter the bacteria in the gut. They help to promote the healthy growth of bifidobacterial and lactobacillus probiotics in the intestines. Like prebiotics, probiotics also help to address a range of gastrointestinal issues and also play a role in neutralizing toxins, improving intestinal immunity, reducing constipation, and promoting healthy blood cholesterol and lipid levels.
Several spices are used in nutraceutical preparations. Spices have been understood to play a role in the possible amelioration or prevention of health disorders. The studied medicinal properties of spices include their use as anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-hypercholesterolemic, and anti-carcinogenic agents. Some of the most common nutraceutical spices include fenugreek, garlic, red pepper, turmeric, and ginger.
The antioxidant vitamins include vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids and are found abundantly in many fruits and vegetables. As their name suggests, antioxidants prevent oxidative reactions. It’s these oxidative stress reactions that are commonly understood to contribute to neurodegeneration, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
Dietary fiber is the material found in plants that don’t become broken down by enzymes in the digestive tract. It is commonly found in foods like oats, beans, and barley. Dietary fiber slows the emptying of the stomach and, as such, helps create feelings of fullness. In some cases, fiber has also been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and improve glucose tolerance.
Dietary fiber is consumed by many to reduce the risks of stroke, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. One of its most common uses is to help promote regularity, especially in those who don’t get an adequate intake of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It has also been used by some to increase immunity.
The role of nutraceuticals in addressing health concerns is commonly being expanded. As we begin to learn more about the powerful properties found in food, we’ll continue to see more and more nutraceuticals being used to address some of the major health problems of the century.