What are nutraceuticals, and why are two ministries promoting the industry
To those of us who grew up drinking turmeric milk when we had an infection or were badly hurt, the turmeric latte craze that started a few years ago seemed odd.
After all, we’d heard about the antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities of curcumin — the compound that gives turmeric its yellow colour and its medicinal properties — from our mothers and grandmothers for as long as we could remember.
Of course, many foods have health benefits. Some of these benefits can even be harnessed in the form of drinks, powders and pills. Now, two Central ministries have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to promote the nutraceutical industry which tries to distil these medicinal qualities into easy-to-consume supplements like curcumin tablets.
On 26 September 2019, Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Pratap Chandra Sarangi, announced at the fifth National Symposium on Nutraceuticals, Herbals and Functional Foods (organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India - ASSOCHAM) that his ministry would work closely with the Ministry of AYUSH to strengthen the nutraceuticals industry and enable more in-depth research in the field.
(AYUSH stands for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy - traditional healthcare systems in India.)
What are nutraceuticals
The word nutraceuticals is a combination of two words: nutrition and pharmaceuticals. Nutraceuticals are made of foods that possess medicinal properties. The term includes dietary supplements and products isolated from herbs.
(Though probiotics and fortified foods are often included in the category, they are actually functional foods - consumables whose health benefits have been multiplied by adding another element, like good bacteria in probiotic curd and vitamin D in fortified milk. By this definition, a turmeric latte would also fall into the category of functional foods.)
While India has a long history of using natural herbs and foods for the prevention and treatment of various health conditions, even nutraceuticals are not new here. They are being used for purposes such as weight-management, muscle-building, and combating nutritional deficiencies since 2006 at least.
How is it different from pharmaceuticals
Nutraceuticals are not medicines. Until recently, they were categorised under proprietary foods - there was little oversight in their formulation and production. ASSOCHAM India cites the following differences between nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals
- Nutraceuticals are used to prevent illnesses, while pharmaceuticals are prescribed by a medical doctor to treat disease.
- Pharmaceuticals have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a medical practitioner. On the other hand, nutraceuticals are regulated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and can be bought from grocery stores as well as some pharmacies.
- Traditional pharmaceuticals work on particular symptoms or the whole body and may or may not have side-effects. Nutraceuticals don’t usually work on any specific symptom, and they take longer to show their effects. Most claim not to have any side-effects.
What does it do
Resveratrol in berries is said to lower blood pressure. Omega 3 fatty acids in some fish improve heart health. And lab studies show that the curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory activity - it reduces swelling and redness associated with an injury or infection. Research shows that many natural compounds have therapeutic properties.
Studies also show that some nutraceuticals may help in the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, neurological conditions and cancer - mostly because they contain antioxidants that help to promote the overall functioning of the body. There are even studies to show health benefits at different stages of life.
Consider three examples:
First, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) - you’ve probably seen people at your gym taking protein powders. BCAA is responsible for muscle protein synthesis in the body.
When we exercise, it activates a catalytic enzyme — BCKDH complex — in the body. This enzyme increases the breakdown of BCAA - this, in turn, leads to more muscle damage. A 2006 study found that taking a BCAA supplement before working out reduces muscle damage during exercise. Pre-supplementation with BCAA also reduces the effects of BCKDH complex and promotes post work out muscle recovery.
Second: equol, a by-product of soybean metabolism in the body, binds to estrogen receptors and has a weak hormonal action. A 2018 study showed that nutraceuticals that have equol may be used as an alternative to hormonal therapy in postmenopausal women.
Third, docosahexaenoic acid, popularly known as DHA, is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) present in the brain and eyes. Low intake of DHA is associated with improper development and functioning of the brain. Research shows that dietary supplementation of DHA may improve both memory and cognition in older adults and slow down age-related memory loss. It can also decrease the accumulation of toxins in the eyes which may otherwise lead to vision loss with age.
Although there are research activity and supervision in this sector now, more needs to be done to regulate it. One of the bigger problems with the sector is that different nutraceutical drugs have different formulations, with different quantities and mixtures of bioactive compounds.
Low grade or counterfeit products remain a major drawback for nutraceutical use. Experts say that it is important to take any natural compound in the required amounts, as per your age and health. Counterfeit products may contain bad quality ingredients in an improper quantity that do more harm than good. In a survey done by ASSOCHAM, more than 90% of nutritionists supported the use of specific brands instead of buying local nutraceutical products.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our in-depth article on the Health Benefits of Turmeric.
The information provided here is intended to provide free education about certain medical conditions and certain possible treatment. It is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis, treatment, and medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. If you believe you, your child or someone you know suffers from the conditions described herein, please see your health care provider immediately. Do not attempt to treat yourself, your child, or anyone else without proper medical supervision. You acknowledge and agree that neither myUpchar nor firstpost is liable for any loss or damage which may be incurred by you as a result of the information provided here, or as a result of any reliance placed by you on the completeness, accuracy or existence of any information provided herein.
Updated Date: Oct 01, 2019 16:12:28 IST
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