In recent times, nutraceuticals have received considerable interest because of their presumed safety and potential nutritional and therapeutic effects. Today, an increasing number of dietary supplements have become available in supermarkets and health food shops, and they are also available for purchase in pharmacies. So, what are nutraceuticals? In a nutshell, they are medicinally or nutritionally functional food products. Nutraceuticals are parts of food that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease. They are also addressed by a variety of other synonyms such as medical foods, designer foods, phytochemicals, functional foods, and nutritional supplements. They include everyday products as “bio” yogurts and fortified breakfast cereals, as well as vitamins, herbal remedies, and even genetically modified foods and supplements. The increasing demand for functional food products can be explained by the growing cost of healthcare, the steady increase in life expectancy, and the desire of older people for the improved quality of their later years.
Some of the vital health benefits of nutraceuticals
Brain health and aging
The WHO predicts that by 2020 over 65 million people will have dementia and that the prevalence of other neurodegenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, will also increase. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia. There is no cure for the disease and eventually leads to death. Alzheimer’s is commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65 years, although less-prevalent, Alzheimer’s can also occur much earlier. The pressure to produce successful treatments is rising but has proved unsuccessful so far. Scientists are increasingly looking at food products that can help slow disease progression and treat symptoms. The growing trends in nutraceutical usage are due to the belief that these compounds can postpone the development of various forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Cardiovascular disease is a term which is used for disorders of the heart and blood vessels and includes coronary heart disease. It is believed that low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with high mortality in the case of cardiovascular diseases. Nutraceuticals in the form of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibers, antioxidants, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids together with physical exercise are recommended for prevention and treatment of this disease.
Cancer has emerged as a significant public health problem in developing countries. A healthy lifestyle and diet can help in the prevention of cancer. Carotenoids are a group of phytochemicals responsible for different colors of the foods. They have antioxidant activities and prove to be useful in cancer prevention. Recent interest in carotenoids has focused on the role of lycopene in human health, especially in cancer disease.
Endocrine health & diabetes
The WHO estimates that 347 million people worldwide have diabetes. Sustained exposure to high blood glucose is linked to the consumption of high fat and high sugar content foods. Functional food products, which release sugars slowly enable better glucose control, which can reduce the impact of diabetes for sufferers, and can also help to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.