Nutraceutical refers to a food - or part of a food - that provides health and medical benefits, including the treatment and prevention of illnesses. Nutraceuticals cover any substance that is part of a food - like dietary supplements, isolated nutrients, genetically engineered designer foods, processed foods, herbal products, etc. The word was developed by Stephen DeFelice, MD, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine (FIM).
Health Canada added to the original definition of nutraceutical to refer to a product derived from food but sold as medicine for physiological benefits or protection from chronic diseases.
Reasons for popularity of nutraceuticals:
There are several reasons why nutraceuticals are becoming very popular in the United States. Costs of medical treatment in America are one of the highest in the world.
Consumers also want better preventive therapies for chronic diseases, more personalized medical care, and preventive solutions for effects of aging.
An interest in preventive therapies and Nature cures is also sweeping the country.
All this has pegged the nutraceutical industry at worth $86 billion in the United States and the industry is even bigger in Europe and Japan. Almost 40 percent of Americans try alternative medicinal therapies every year, with the majority of these people also taking nutraceuticals. Significantly, several physicians prescribe nutraceuticals before they give pharmaceutical drugs to their patients.
The biggest reason for the popularity of these foods is that most people believe nutraceuticals offer benefits on a par with those provided by pharmaceutical drugs but without the side effects that come with the use of the latter.
Some common claims about the benefits of nutraceuticals include cartilage and joint health, check on cholesterol levels, healthy lung functions, relief from absentmindedness, and reduction in stress.
Nutraceuticals come in several categories. Dietary supplements with botanicals include minerals, vitamins, carnitine, co-enzyme Q and ginseng, among numerous others. Functional foods include bran, oats, lignin and psyllium. Additionally, there are the probiotics, omega-3 acids, medicinal foods and genetically engineered foods.
Medical experts and regulatory authorities fear that certified nutraceuticals are still rare in the market. Most raw materials used for the manufacture of nutraceuticals are imported and there is no quality control. There is very little data available on how the herbal and botanical ingredients - that go into the manufacture of nutraceuticals - are cultivated. Nutraceuticals clearly affect physiology but they are not tested as strictly as pharmaceutical drugs.
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