How many times have you been told to eat more fish because it’s good for your brain? Is it just a phrase based on our tradition and customs, or is there a scientific rationale? Nutraceutics is the science that deals with scientific reasoning. Let’s see precisely what nutraceutical products are.
The term Nutraceutical was coined recently, in 1989, by Dr Stephen De Felice and derived from the union of two words, “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical“.
Nutraceutics investigates with a rigorous, scientific and clinical approach the functional components of foods that have positive health effects and promote well-being. It was born to develop a new discipline, which evolved the concept of correct nutrition and studied the components in foods in-depth and scientifically.
Food as a medicine
«Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.»
Hippocrates first, considered the father of Western medicine, understood the importance of a healthy, balanced, and varied diet.
More and more Italians are trying to correct their diet, not only for an aesthetic issue but precisely to improve their state of health. Nutraceutics is also based on this fundamental and indispensable concept, indeed it evolves. For example, it investigates why it is so important to add fruits and vegetables to the diet. Plants contain vitamins and minerals, but they also have active components that can help the proper functioning of some organs or some systems.
Let’s think about the artichoke. In addition to having a nutritional role, it also supports proper liver function. Components that perform this function are found mainly in the leaves, which are not taken with the feeding, so it is not enough to eat many artichokes to support the liver function.
So here is the role of nutraceuticals. It identified the components responsible for the beneficial effects and the plant’s part found, so the development of nutraceuticals is allowed.
The substances obtained from natural products (fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish), which guarantee an extraordinary contribution from beneficial properties, can be concentrated in capsules or tablets to increase their benefits. That’s what nutraceuticals are.
Examples of nutraceuticals
Numerous natural substances with beneficial properties have been identified. Let’s see some examples:
- Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6). Present, for example, in foods such as crustaceans and dried fruits, which have positive effects on the cardiovascular system and brain function.
- Ascorbic acid. Better known as Vitamin C with antioxidant and supportive properties of the immune system. It is mainly present in citrus fruit.
- Carotenoids. Such as Betacarotene, Lycopene and Lutein, precursors of Vitamin A. They are mainly present in orange, yellow or red and green leafy fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, apricots, carrots, berries, peppers, spinach and pumpkin.
- Cholecalciferol. Also called Vitamin D, beneficial for bones. It is present in mushrooms, in some types of fish and egg yolk.
The knowledge of nutraceuticals has allowed us to isolate and purify the active natural components, which can then be conveyed inside tablets, capsules, sachets or bottles to make them more practical and convenient to take. Or they can be included in some foods to enhance their effects, such as milk powder for infants integrated with vitamin D.
It allows us to integrate natural substances into a balanced and healthy diet, enhance the beneficial effects for our body, and maintain a state of well-being.
Edited by Dr Laura Rubini