Neutraceuticals and their influence on human health: an overview

Ritika Birla, M. K. Chatli, H. Lalawmpuii, Radhika Sharma and O. P. Malav

Dept. of Livestock Products Technology
Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Science University (GADVASU), Ludhiana-141004


Nutraceuticals is a term that is used to describe any product derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. They can be considered non-specific biological therapies used to promote general well-being, control symptoms and prevent malignant processes. “Nutraceutical” combines two words – “Nutrient” (a nourishing food component) and “Pharmaceutical” (a medical drug). The term was coined in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, an American organization located in Cranford, New Jersey.

The philosophy behind nutraceuticals is to focus on prevention, according to the saying by a Greek physician Hippocrates (known as the father of medicine) who said “let food be your medicine”. Their role in human nutrition is one of the most important areas of investigation, with wide-raging implications for consumers, health-care providers, regulators, food producers and distributors.

Category of nutraceuticals

The definition of nutraceuticals and related products generally depends on the source and classified on the basis of their natural sources, pharmacological conditions, as well as chemical constitution of the products. Most often they are grouped in the following categories:

  • Dietary Supplement:Represents a product that contains nutrients derived from food products, and is often concentrated in liquid, capsule, powder or pill form.
  • Functional Food: According to British Nutrition Foundation, Functional foods deliver additional or enhanced benefits over and above their basic nutritional value.
  • Medical Foodis formulated to be consumed or administered internally, under the supervision of a qualified physician. Its intended use is a specific dietary management of a disease or condition for which distinctive nutritional requirements are established by the medical evaluation (on the basis of recognized scientific principle).
  • Farmaceuticals are medically valuable components produced from modified agricultural crops or animals. The term is a combining of the words “farm” and “pharmaceuticals”.

More broadly, nutraceuticals can be classified in two groups (Pandey et al., 2010)

  1. Potential nutraceuticals
  2. Established nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals may be used to improve health, prevent chronic diseases, postpone the aging process (and in turn increase life expectancy), or just support functions and integrity of the body. They are considered to be healthy sources for prevention of life threatening diseases such as diabetes, renal and gastrointestinal disorders, as well as different infections.

Nutraceuticals as therapeutic agents

The majority of the nutraceuticals do possess multiple therapeutic benefits and have been claimed to have physiological benefitsor provide protection against various diseases such as cardiovascular agents, anti-obese agents, anti-diabetic agents, anti-cancer agents, immune boosters, substances that manage chronic inflammatory  disorders and formulations to cure degenerative diseases.

Antioxidant neutraceuticals

Over production of free radicals result in oxidative stress that deregulates the cellular and metabolic functions. Phytochemicals with antioxidant property are of great interest due to their beneficial effects on human health as they offer protection against: Metabolic dysfunction, gastro-duodenal pathogenesis, premature aging, inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, neuro-degenerative and cardiovascular diseases. Carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbates, lipoic acids, polyphenols, flavonoids and enzymes like super oxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase are strong natural antioxidants with free radical scavenging activity. Fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes and beverages are the main sources of polyphenols. Dietary antioxidants seems promising to ensure a better disease free lifestyle for the mankind by scavenging free radicals and consequently preventing mutagenic changes and associated disorders.

Nutraceutical market in different countries

The US nutraceutical market still represents the largest nutraceutical market in the world as there is increasing demand from extremely health conscious consumers. There has been considerable increase in demand for neutraceuticals in Europe with a resulting rapid progress in research and development and the main market being Netherlands and Sweden.

According to a recent report, total market for nutraceuticals in India is growing at 21 percent per year surpassing global growth rates. It is currently a nascent market trying to incorporate traditional herbal ingredients (most often ayurvedic) into the nutraceutical portfolio.The Indian nutraceutical market valued at $ 1,480 million in 2011 could grow to $ 2,731 million in 2016.However, dietary supplements specifically herbal and dietetic supplements, will form the greatest opportunity areas for nutraceutical manufacturers,accounting for 64 per cent of the nutraceuticals market at presnt.

As per the study the global nutraceutical market was estimated to be $ 149.5 billion in 2011 with US, Europe and Japan being the largest regional markets, accounting for nearly 93 per cent of the global nutraceutical demand.

Rationale for use of nutraceuticals

Dietary factors play an important role in premature chronic disease appearance, disease progression, morbidity and mortality. Approximately 40-50% proportion in cardiovascular disorders, 35-50% proportion in cancers, and 20% proportion in osteoporosis is attributable to dietary factors. Use of food as medicine for treatment and prevention of various disorders is not a recent development. Fortification of table salt with iodine and wheat flour with iron/folic acid has been used with specific aims of prevention of iodine deficiency goiter and anemia for long. Similarly, food fortified with vitamin A has been found to be a feasible and cost-effective approach to reduce vitamin A deficiency.


Nutraceuticals is scientific area generated all over the world. In many cases nutraceuticals offer an advantage over the synthetic drugs under development by the pharmaceuticals industry. It is novel pharmacological activity that are become interesting in their possible clinical use and thus helping in prevention and therapeutic in several diseases.Their mechanisms of action involves a wide array of biological processes, including activation of antioxidant defenses, signal transduction pathways, cell survival-associated gene expression, cell proliferation and differentiation and preservation of mitochondrial integrity. It appears that these properties play a crucial role in the protection against the pathologies of numerous age-related or chronic diseases. Now “nutraceutical a day may keep the doctor away” replace the old proverb “an apple a day will keep the doctor away”.