People’s diet offers a greater and more diverse group of plant bioactives than do drugs. They often do not realize that many drugs are derived from the compounds originally discovered in plant foods. Nutraceuticals can accomplish desirable therapeutic outcomes with reduced side effects, as compared with other therapeutic agents.
What are nutraceuticals?
The term “nutraceutical” was coined from “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical” in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice. DeFelice proceeded to define nutraceutical as, “a food (or part of a food) that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease”.
However, the term nutraceutical, as commonly used in marketing, has no regulatory definition. Thus, nutraceuticals differ from dietary supplements in the following aspects:
- Nutraceuticals must not only supplement the diet but should also aid in the prevention and treatment of diseases and disorders.
- Nutraceuticals are used as conventional foods or as sole items of a meal or diet
The secret behind nutraceuticals health benefits lies in their bioactive non-nutrient compounds called phytochemicals. These compounds have raised interest in human nutrition because of their potential effects as antioxidants, antiestrogenics, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and anticarcinogenics. Phytochemicals and their metabolic products may also inhibit pathogenic bacteria while stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria, exerting prebiotic-like effects. Interactions between food components, such as prebiotics, probiotics, phytochemicals, and intestinal microbiota, have consequences on human health.
Nutraceutical plants you already know
Here is a list of some well studied nutraceutical plants:
Black cumin (Nigella sativa):
Black cumin seeds and its crude or essential oils have been widely used in traditional nutritional and medicinal applications. Researchers have found that the black cumin oilseed is an effective anticancer, antidiabetic, immunomodulator, analgesic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, bronchodilator, hepatoprotective, antihypertensive and renal protective. Moreover, black seeds have many antioxidative properties and activities.
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica):
Numerous studies indicate that Brassica vegetables in general, and broccoli in particular, protect humans against cancer. These vegetables are rich sources of glucosinolates and possess a high content of flavonoids, vitamins and mineral nutrients.
One unusual phytotherapic role of broccoli is for skin diseases—the juice of the leaves helps treat warts. However, the main use of broccoli stems from its health-promoting properties.
Garlic (Allium sativum):
Garlic is an important plant with both culinary and medicinal uses. It has many biological activities, which include antibiotic, anticancer, anti-thrombotic, and lipid-lowering cardiovascular effects. Most of garlic beneficial effects are due to the presence of the organosulphate molecule allicin.
Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus):
Globe artichoke represents an important component of the Mediterranean diet, and is a rich source of bioactive phenolic compounds, inulin, fiber and minerals. In addition, artichoke leaf extracts have long been used in folk medicine, particularly for liver complaints. In various pharmacological test systems, artichoke leaf extracts have exhibited hepatoprotective, anticarcinogenic, antioxidative, antibacterial, anti-HIV, bile-expelling, and urinative activities. They have also the ability to inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis and LDL oxidation.
These broad therapeutic indications do not come from a single compound. In fact, several active compounds together generate additive or synergistic pharmacologic effects such as caffeoylquinic acids, and flavonoids.
Prickly pear(Opuntia ficus-indica):
Prickly pear has multiple functional properties. Recent data revealed the high content of some chemical constituents, which can give added value to this fruit on a nutritional and technological functionality basis. High levels of betalains, taurine, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants are noteworthy.
Sesame (Sesamum indicum):
The highly antioxidative activity of sesame oil involves newly discovered lignans. The antiaging effect of sesame is due to the strong vitamin E activity caused by a novel synergistic effect of sesame lignans with tocopherols. This synergistic effect comes from the inhibition of metabolic decomposition of tocopherols by sesame lignans.
Sesame lignans have also various effects on fatty acid metabolism involving lowering fatty acid concentration in liver and serum. Sesame lignans also showed other useful functions such as acceleration of alcohol decomposition in the liver, antihypertensive activity, immunoregulatory activities, anticarcinogenic activity, and others.