Nutraceuticals are oral dietary components that naturally found in foods

Nutraceuticals are oral dietary components that naturally found in foods and have several health and medical benefits.

Nutraceuticals are oral dietary components that naturally found in foods

Foods with medical health benefits include the prevention and treatment of diseases. The term nutraceutical first coined by Dr. Stephen Defelice in 1989, who joined the words nutrition and pharmaceutical.

Nutrient: food components that required in specific amount to support the life of individuals. Such as, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals,

Pharmaceutical: a substance that is used for diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, and prevention.

Modern nutraceutical market in Japan began to establish during 1980s. Today about 470 nutraceuticals are available. Worldwide nutraceuticals market would reach US$250 billion by 2018.

Traditional and non-traditional foods

Traditional foods: Simple natural food and nothing added to it. Only consumer’s perception changes. Like

  • Fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart of healthy people, and those at high risk of — or who have — cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death.  Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and lower blood pressure (slightly).

The American heart association recommended eating fish at least twice a weak.

Non-traditional foods: It includes foods from agriculture breeding, food with added ingredients to boost up nutritional value.  Like

  • Orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • Calcium: ensures strong bones and teeth, helps muscles and nerves to work properly
  • Vitamin D: helps to absorbs and use calcium

Classification of Nutraceuticals

The food products that used as nutraceuticals contain the followings:

  1. Antioxidants
  2. Prebiotics
  3. Probiotics
  4. Omega3 fatty acids
  5. Dietary fibers


The substances that prevent damage caused by oxidation. As during oxidation, free radicals are generated which burn everything they touch. Powerful electron donors and can damage the free radicals. The common diseases of 21st century are associated with tissue deficiency or dietary levels of compounds called antioxidants. The antioxidant radical formed is stable and nonreactive. They are high in number and very diverse in nature. Their small concentrations can inhibit the oxidation chain reactions. E.g.: antioxidants are found in vegetable oils like soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, oat oil, wheat germ oil, palm oil.

Classification of antioxidants

  • Vitamins: vitamin C, vitamin E
  • Carotenoids: beta carotene, lycopene
  • Thiols: lipoic acid, glutathione
  • Minerals: copper, manganese, zinc


Live microbial food ingredients, which are beneficial to health. Colon is the densely populated area of gastrointestinal tract and harbors about 500 different species of bacteria.

Probiotic bacterial species

  • Lactobacilli
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Streptococcus

Characteristics of probiotic bacteria

  • GRAS (generally recognized as safe)
  • Resistance to HCL and pancreatic juice
  • Produce antimicrobial substances
  • Compete with bad bacteria to adhere the gut wall
  • Compete for nutrients and stimulate immunity
  • Promote digestion

Probiotics are commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added active live cultures, such as in yogurt.


Substances which reach the colon in intact form i.e. without getting depleted by gastric juices or enzymes. Selectively promote the growth of colonel probiotic bacteria, hence they act as fertilizers. Resists host digestion and absorption.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids 

Two types of fatty acids are required to our body: essential and non-essential fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential fatty acids, also called omega-3 fatty acids.  These are the long chain fatty acids and are not formed in our body.

  • Long chain omega-3-fatty acids
    èeicosapentaoic acid
    èdocosagexaoic acid
    are built up in algae and plankton and the fish living on them.
  • The marine animal oils and natural vegetable oils containing polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega 3 type and omega 6 type) help to reduce cholesterol deposition and prevent thromboxane formation.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids found in corn oil, soybean oil, mustard oil, marine fish, and evening primose oil.

Following are the diseases for which polyunsaturated F.A are used

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lung failure
  • Kidney transplant

Dietary fibers 

Also known as roughage or bulk, include all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber isn’t digested by your body. It passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body.


  • Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material.
    It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
    Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley.
  • Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.

Benefits of fiber in diet

  • Normalizes bowel movements
  • Helps maintain bowel health
  • Helps control blood sugar levels
  • Aids in achieving healthy weight
  • Lowers cholesterol levels

FDA and NUTRACEUTICALS: FDA approved many health claims related to certain food components and their positive and negative effect on human health.

Method to enhance active components in food

  • Manipulating the diet to get maximum level of active components
  • Combination of food ingredients rich in nutraceuticals
  • Fortifying food with active ingredients
  • By fermentation of food products
  • Changing food habits to natural type of diet

Interest in Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals are preferred due to following reasons:

  1. They have long history of use and better patient tolerance as well as public acceptance.
  2. These foods like substances are either harmless or least toxic.
  3. They have no side effects so people are relying on them for safeguarding their health.
  4. They are less costly as well.


Nutraceuticals are present in most of the food ingredients with varying concentration. Concentration, time and duration of supply of nutraceuticals influence human health. Manipulating the foods, the concentration of active ingredients can be increased. Diet rich in nutraceuticals along with regular exercise, stress reduction and maintenance of healthy body weight will maximize health and reduces disease risk.

By Sidra Charagh

Research scholar at Centre of Agricultural Biochemistry and Biotechnology (CABB), University of Agriculture, Faisalabad-Pakistan (UAF)