Our health and the well-being of our bodies have become increasingly important in recent years. Not only are we more attentive to the signals our bodies send us, but also to what we take.
In this context, the focus on natural products has also increased, but sometimes there can still be concepts that are not completely clear, for example the difference between nutraceuticals, homeopathic and phytotherapeutic remedies.
Let’s see what these three categories represent and when they should be used.
The term ‘nutraceutical’ indicates all those products, more commonly known as food supplements, designed to boost the body’s normal physiological functions.
Nutraceuticals may contain a variety of substances, from vitamins and minerals to plant extracts known for their properties and other substances allowed by the Ministry of Health. Depending on the substances they contain, they can act very differently: from boosting the immune system, combatting menopausal disorders, to relaxation and many others.
All food supplements fall into the broader category of foodstuffs and must be reported to the Ministry of Health and comply with current food safety regulations.
Homeopathic medicines are all those remedies which reflect the principles of homeopathy. The basic principle on which homeopathy is based is “similia similibus curentur” (like cures like) and consists of administering very low doses of the active ingredient which, when administered to a healthy person, would cause the same symptoms as in the sick person.
Homeopathic remedies may contain greatly diluted and ‘dynamised’ substances of mineral, chemical, plant, animal or biological origin. This dilution is the reason why analyses often fail to detect the active ingredient in the remedy, which is almost exclusively composed of excipients. These products are in fact medicines, but do not require a medical prescription.
Phytotherapeutic products, or rather phytotherapeutic medicines, are to all intents and purposes medicines for which approval by the AIFA (Italian Medicines Agency) is required. These medicines feature a plant substance as their active ingredient, rather than a chemically synthesised molecule as with most medicines. They are sold exclusively at chemists and over-the-counter chemists and may be prescription only medicines.
When to take one or the other?
Obviously, there is no blanket response to this question, as the choice of the most suitable product depends on the type of disorder experienced by each individual, its intensity and the person’s specific characteristics.
What we can emphasise is the importance of always seeking professionals when choosing the most suitable product for one’s needs.
However phytotherapeutic products, as medicines, can only be recommended by a doctor (if subject to prescription) or a chemist (if sold over the counter).