What are nutraceuticals?
A nutraceutical is any product derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. The term Nutraceutical is a combination of two words: “nutrient” and “pharmaceutical.” Nutraceuticals are used to promote general well-being, control symptoms and prevent malignant processes and other diseases. They may also be used to prevent chronic diseases, improve health, delay the aging process, increase life expectancy, or support the structure or function of the body although the ability to make such claims is regulated by the government and can vary from country to country. Nutraceuticals can come in the form of isolated nutrients, dietary supplements, herbal products, and specific diets.
What are the major categories of nutraceuticals?
There are several categories of nutraceuticals.
1. Dietary Supplements – products that are intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid and contain one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; and other substances) or their constituents.
2. Functional Foods – food that is enriched or fortified to give it a specific medical or physiological benefit. It is usually consumed it its naturally occurring form unlike a dietary supplement that is taken as a pill or liquid. Sometimes ingredients are added to food to restore its natural state and sometimes it is done to provide additional health and nutritional benefits. Milk with added vitamin D is a common example of such fortified functional food.
3. Medicinal Foods – food that is formulated to be consumed under the supervision of a physician for the purpose of a specific dietary management or medical condition treatment of which poses specific dietary requirements.
4. Probiotics – live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits. Probiotics are typically taken in the form of food such as yogurt or as dietary supplements.
Are nutraceuticals safe?
All nutraceuticals are not the same. Dietary supplements are not required by federal law to be tested for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed, and the amount of scientific evidence available for various supplement ingredients varies widely. Classification as a dietary supplement is determined by the information that the manufacturer provides on the product label or in accompanying literature, although many food and dietary supplement product labels do not include this information.
Supplement ingredients are not required to be reviewed by FDA for their safety before they are marketed because they are presumed to be safe based on their history of use by humans. Unlike drug products, there are no provisions in the law for FDA to “approve” dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer.
It is difficult to determine the quality of a dietary supplement product from its label. The degree of quality control depends on the manufacturer, the supplier, and others in the production process. It is therefore very important to receive your nutraceuticals only from a reputable company and knowledgeable health practitioner.
This site maintained by the US Government provides additional details: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/DietarySupplements-HealthProfessional/
I am healthy. Do I still need to take nutraceuticals?
Many people understand health as simply absence of symptoms of disease. Your body may be under stress, and while it may seem to be coping for now, it is depleting its resources. Some diseases are silent at early stages. Some people are not aware their energy levels are not the highest especially since many vague symptoms like fatigue creep up on you setting in gradually. Those people are surprised how energized they feel once their bodies receive the right kind support whereas in reality their energy levels are just restored to where they should be by correcting nutrient deficiencies and other underlying issues.
Even when the right ingredients are present in your diet (which is often not the case in today’s age of processed food rich in calories but poor in useful nutrients), your gut may not be in the ideal shape to absorb them into your body. Pesticides, preservatives and medications can damage the intestine making it more difficult to digest and absorb the nutrients.
What nutraceuticals should I take if I haven’t been diagnosed with any disease?
There are several categories of nutraceuticals that can benefit most people. Although their formulations are not offered as medication, meaning they are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration to diagnose or treat any specific illness, many contain substances whose beneficial effect has been scientifically proven. The best approach is to be seen by a doctor and receive specific recommendations but here are the categories of nutraceuticals that can offer general wellness benefits and are safe for most people to take.
1. High-Quality Multivitamins
While testing is the only way to check your nutritional status, there is a good chance you are deficient in at least some vitamins. Due to the decreased amounts of nutrients available in modern foods, increased stress levels, toxin exposure, and the increasing prevalence of gastrointestinal tract issues, many people do not receive or able to absorb enough vitamins.
2. Omega 3
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are widely publicized. They reduce inflammation and may help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. And because they are highly-concentrated in the brain, omega-3 fatty acids are also important for memory, cognition, and behavior.
In addition to maintaining sufficient levels of Omega 3, it is also important to ensure you have a proper omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in your body. Research suggests that humans evolved on a diet consisting of an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1. The modern diet, which is full of processed foods, refined oils, and not enough fruits and vegetables, supplies an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 15:1 to 17:1. This ratio is highly inflammatory and a recipe for disease.
You want to be particularly careful about the source of your omega 3 supplements because they are extracted from fish, so many of them contain mercury, a toxic metal.
The ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes that live in your gut and called microbiome is extremely important to maintaining good health. Nearly 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, and up to 95% of your serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood) is produced in your intestines. Throwing your microbiome off balance can lead to a whole host of problems, including autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, and leaky gut, to name a few. Taking a probiotic every day can help keep your microbiome in balance, which promotes a healthy GI tract, relieves digestive discomfort, promotes a normal bowel pattern, and supports overall wellness. A good quality probiotic supplement contains broad-spectrum beneficial bacterial strains that are naturally found in your gut, and have been researched and proven to boost gut health and immune response.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins because over 50,000 chemical reactions in your body require the presence of adequate amounts of vitamin D in your blood. Vitamin D is converted to a hormone that influences metabolism, growth and development, mood, bone strength, and heart health. It also plays a role in cancer and autoimmune disease prevention. Although vitamin D can be produced in the skin exposed to sunlight and is added to milk, many people still do not received adequate amounts of this important substance. Testing your blood for Vitamin D levels is the best way to ensure you receive adequate amounts of the vitamin.
5. Methylation Support (Methylated B-Vitamins)
Methylation is a biochemical process that helps turn toxins in safer substances that your body can remove. Basically, methylation allows you to detox effectively. Proper methylation depends on the presence of several vitamins and cofactors, including vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12. Unfortunately many people carry a genetic mutation called MTHFR defect that makes it more difficult for their bodies to convert those vitamins into usable forms. Someone with a MTHFR mutation may be able to use less than one-fifth (and in cases of two mutations less than one-tenth) of the B vitamins they absorb. The problem may stay silent for many years while damage to the body accumulates. A simple blood test is available to detect the MTHFR mutation, and those positive for it should receive a methylation support supplement daily.
Are all nutraceuticals created equal? Should I just buy them at my local drugstore?
With growing public awareness of the benefits of healthy living and the right nutrition many big corporations jump on the bandwagon and produce their own nutraceuticals. While those typically meet the minimum safety standard, they are produced in mass quantities often in countries with lower quality standards at the lowest possible cost. Impurities can make their way into the supplements causing serious side effects such as allergies while potency of the nutraceutical may vary from batch to batch. Different batches sold under the same name can even be produced by different factories in different countries. Moreover the ingredients may not be even fresh because nobody checks the freshness of the ingredients, and the only information available to the consumer is the expiration date based on the time the final product was packaged. Ingredients may be coming from unknown sources where contaminants such as toxins and bacteria may be present even if the factory where the final product is made is clean. Additional ingredients that are not intended to be in the formulation are also a concern.
Some manufacturers add ingredients that can cause sense issues in sensitive patients. They may also use equipment not properly decontaminated from allergens. The following substances that are not useful and sometimes even harmful: wheat, gluten, nuts, egg, hydrogenated oils, soy, dairy products, GMO-derived products, coatings, shellacs, binders, fillers, excipients, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners or colors. Therefore good nutraceutical manufacturers usually avoid any of those substances and have an Allergen Control Plan (ACP) in place to prevent cross-contamination.
Because consistency is not an FDA requirement for dietary supplements (also called standardization), it is left up to the company to ensure its product is of highest quality. Generic manufacturers that sell through big chain drugstores usually don’t have a reputation to worry about. Finally, generic supplement manufacturers use the most cost-saving pill making methods that often make it harder for the body to extract the nutrients.
There are smaller manufacturers, however, who formulate their nutraceuticals using only the highest quality ingredients, develop their unique formulas and have stringent quality controls and consistency while producing the supplements in small batches. Those brands are often distributed only through doctors and other health practitioners because the company that makes them cares about the patients and its reputation and wants to make sure the right person receives the right treatment. Responsible doctors and other health practitioners on their part also care about their patients and carefully evaluate and select the best nutraceuticals before offering them to their patients under close supervision and taking their time to answer all questions.
In summary, here is why it’s a good idea to only receive nutraceuticals made by a reputable company from a reputable practitioner:
1. Quality of ingredients starting with carefully selecting their sources and analyzing each batch for contaminants such as toxins, bacteria, parasites, and extraneous ingredients.
2. Freshness – ensuring all the ingredients are equally fresh at the time of manufacture.
3. Consistency – ensuring you get the same ingredients in the same amounts and with the same potency every time.
4. Nutrient availability – ensuring your body gets easy access to all the ingredients.
5. Support – your doctor and manufacturer’s representative are easily available to answer questions and discuss any concerns.
Should I go to a doctor or just buy online?
Every person is unique, and everyone has a slightly different biochemistry, different diseases, genetics, occupation, home and work environment, and lifestyle. All these factors need to be taken into account when creating a personalized healing and disease prevention plan for each person. Even if you find a supplement maker with good customer service, the representatives will only be able to tell you about their products and will not offer any medical advice. Your doctor has an array of tests as well as knowledge and experience to determine what would work best for you. That’s why many high-quality nutraceutical manufacturers offer their products only through health practitioners. Needless to say you need to see a doctor knowledgeable in the field of integrative and holistic medicine.