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What are nutraceuticals?

Normally, a strict distinction is made between food and drugs. However, advances in research are increasingly blurring the line. New studies on superfoods & co are published almost daily. The term nutraceuticals makes it clear that food is more than just a source of energy. After all, Hippocrates already said: "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!"

The term nutraceuticals is made up of the words nutrition (= nutrition) and pharmaceutical (= pharmaceuticals). The word combination goes back to the American doctor Stephen De Felice, founder of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine (FIM). Nutraceutical refers to a food or part of a food that has a medical or health benefit. Including the prevention and treatment of disease. Unlike pharmaceuticals, these are not synthetic substances developed for specific diseases.

Nutraceuticals include traditional, herbal remedies, dietary supplements or so-called functional foods. However, common foods, spices, essential fatty acids, vitamins or dietary fibres are also referred to as nutraceuticals. The exact legal definition varies from country to country. In Canada, for example, the term refers to a product prepared from food that is available in the form of pills or powder. In Germany, on the other hand, it is not specified what can and cannot be labelled as a nutraceutical.

Table of contents:
  1. Nutraceuticals and the hurdles of the Health Claims Regulation
  2. Effect and areas of application of nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals and the hurdles of the Health Claims Regulation

Nutraceuticals are predominantly of plant origin. The secondary plant substances (also known as phytochemicals) are often responsible for the health-promoting properties. The term phytochemicals covers a range of compounds that are formed by plants and serve, for example, as colourants or flavourings to ward off predators. Plants have long been used in many cultures to prevent and treat diseases. However, food labelling regulations do not always allow companies to advertise products with this effect.

One example is ginkgo (e.g. contained in Nutri-Plus Brainfood). Ginkgo has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Many experimental and clinical studies show that ginkgo extract has a positive effect on memory performance and learning ability, protects brain tissue and improves the flow properties of the blood. However, a health claim may not be made on the packaging. Health and nutrition claims are subject to the so-called Health Claims Regulation (Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006) and are only permitted if they have been verified by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The same applies to curcumin from the turmeric plant. Curcumin has also been used in Indian medicine for a long time and has an antioxidant and pain-relieving effect, among other things.

Effect and areas of application of nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals have a positive effect on the immune system and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Their areas of application include obesity, diabetes, cancer, rheumatism, elevated cholesterol levels and cardiovascular diseases as well as sleep disorders and depression. According to the European Nutraceutical Association (ENA), the use of nutraceuticals has one major advantage: no side effects are to be expected.

Nutraceuticals not only play a role in the prevention and treatment of diseases. A recent review showed that nutraceuticals also influence the ageing process and act as a natural anti-ageing agent. For example, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, vitamin E protects the skin from the harmful effects of UVB rays and curcumin has an anti-inflammatory effect.