What was that? Nutra…what? Are they animals? Vegetables? Minerals? What ARE nutraceuticals? Funny you should ask…
How Do You Define Nutraceuticals?
The guys at Merriam Webster Dictionary define nutraceutical as “a foodstuff that provides health benefits in addition to its basic nutritional value”.
The term was actually invented (Coined? Made up?) by Dr. Stephen DeFelice in 1989 to describe “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease”.
Dr. DeFelice believed that by extracting the parts of food that provide extra benefit beyond nutrition, it could help cure health problems as well, or perhaps even better than, traditional prescription medicine.
He received the 2013 Marconi Science Award for his research into the use of the amino acid carnitine in patients suffering from Primary Carnitine Deficiency as well as its promising cardiovascular benefits and positive effects on patients in dialysis.
Dr. DeFelice actually started his research into carnitine back in 1965 and has helped give a boost to the market of products we commonly call dietary supplements.
The Rise of Dietary Supplements
Humans have always been on a quest to improve their physical health and/or performance. Back in the B.C. days, warriors and athletes might opt to eat a deer liver or lion heart to promote bravery, speed or strength.
In the early 19th century the discovery that certain diseases could be linked directly to vitamin deficiencies, rather than toxins or infections as had been previously thought, was a huge breakthrough.
This research continued as a new understanding of how protein, fat and carbohydrate affects energy usage began to develop.
The first marketed supplements may have been protein powders used by athletes in the 1940’s to improve their muscle mass and energy levels. This industry has exploded since its inception and continues to be a major player in the supplement market.
In the 1960s and 70s, health food stores selling various supplements began to gain popularity due to the rise of the counterculture movement. Since then, dietary supplements have grown to be a 58 billion dollar industry. (Yes, billion. With a “B”).
Are Dietary Supplements Safe? Are They Effective?
The term nutraceutical has no regulatory definition but is being commonly used in marketing dietary supplements. In addition to this, the supplement industry itself has little to no government regulation.
What does this mean for you?
It means that these companies are under no obligation to prove that their supplements contain what is listed on the label nor to disclose any other ingredients that may be included, whether these additional ingredients are hazardous or not.
Supplements have been found to include very little (or none) of the active ingredient listed and often what is included is of very poor quality. A high percentage of products include animal DNA and/or dangerous chemical contamination.
It also means that the companies that manufacture these products can claim that their products have any benefits that they want as long as they include this disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”.
Many inflate scientific findings by funding their own research and clinical trials. In some cases, the claims made by the manufacturers have actually been refuted by the medical and scientific community.
Another problem lies with the consumers themselves.
Because there is no need to obtain a prescription to use dietary supplements, a consumer is free to decide for themselves what product they want to use and in what dosage. And because there is no need to consult a doctor or pharmacist, because anyone can just stroll into and buy them from the clerk standing behind the counter, people assume these products are innocuous. Nothing could be further from the truth.
They can interfere with the effectiveness of prescribed medications, worsen existing conditions or build up in the body, causing toxicity.
So What’s A Girl To Do?
Good news! You can get all the benefits from dietary supplements in the food you eat! (I mean, seriously, where do you think they got ‘em in the first place?)
A new term called “functional food” is beginning to make the rounds in many health-conscious circles.
It’s being used to describe some of the naturally occurring chemicals, or components, in foods providing health benefits that go beyond nutrition benefits.
For example, an orange is not only rich in vitamin A, D and B6, it also has PMFs to lower cholesterol, fiber to control blood sugar and keep you regular as well as antioxidants to boost the immune system.
For an extensive list of foods and their benefits click here.
Always Choose The Food
The next time you’re can’t sleep or have a bellyache, instead of reaching in the medicine cabinet, try a cup of chamomile tea. Feeling foggy? Have the salmon for lunch. And by golly, grab an apple if you’re having trouble in the bathroom.
Check out this post for some more thoughts on eating your way to health!
Always choose the food.
All my best,