Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, in his famous quote, written around 5th century BC, was essentially referring to nutraceuticals. The portmanteau of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”, was coined in 1989, by Stephen L. DeFelice, founder and chairman of the Foundation of Innovation Medicine.

Nutraceutical is any substance considered as food or its part, which, in addition to its normal nutritional value, provides health benefits, including the prevention of disease, or promotion of health.

Different jurisdictions have collectively agreed, that nutraceutical has no regulatory definition. As a general consensus, a nutraceutical should be a non-toxic food component, with scientifically proven health benefits.

A plethora of ancient civilizations, like Indian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Sumerian, have extensively explored the medicinal traits of various food commodities. Ayurveda, the ages old Indian discipline of health science, has also mentioned the usages and benefits of food for therapeutic purposes. The modern nutraceutical industry thriving nowadays, had begun to develop in Japan, during the 1980s.

Nutraceuticals are often labeled as designer foods, health foods, fortified foods, medifoods, vita foods, pharma foods, functional foods, and dietary supplements. The term “Nutraceutical” is a terminology, which encompasses isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and diets, genetically engineered ”designer” foods, herbal products, and processed food products The functional component must be standardized in the nutraceutical product, and be manufactured under good manufacturing practices (GMPs).

Recent developments:

August 2017: Carlson Labs, Arlington Heights, and IL, have developed Carlson Curcumin, an enhanced form of curcumin, which has a higher bioavailability, for healthy, normal inflammatory response, joint & heart health, and a powerful antioxidant protection.

The enhanced bioavailability has been a constant focus of R&D, in the nutraceutical sector, as the amount of functional ingredients have no beneficial effect, if they are not adequately available for absorption by the human body, into the bloodstream. Moreover, the enhanced form of functional ingredients are, readily absorbed by the person who has a compromised immune-system.

July 2017: NutraGlow, Inc., the developer of a blend of sublingual vitamins, launched its new Super B vitamin product, which has active B-6, and inactive B-12 to fight fatigue, and optimize brain function.

Multivitamins have been a popular form of supplements, due to its wide array of health benefits, collectively provided by different vitamins. However, blending an active type of vitamin with an inactive one, for enhanced health benefits, is a significant innovation at value-added levels.

How global market is responding to this segment of medicinal foods?

A report by a market research firm, estimates a healthy growth rate of 6.3% for rapidly growing global nutraceutical market, over 2017-2022, and the market is estimated to be valued at294.79 billion, by 2022 end.

Developed countries are investing heavily in R&D, pertaining to the general well-being of their fellow citizens, along with the sharp rise in medical expenses, to tackle chronic and lifestyle diseases. Preventive approach to health has been the rising trend globally, with developing countries meeting their public health targets, and consistently increasing the proportion of GDP allotted for the healthcare sector.

Nutraceuticals are increasingly becoming a part of the daily diet, owing to the rising incidences of lifestyle diseases, improved standards of living, and inadequate nutritional intake – lack of balance diets. Increasing mortality rates, in developing countries, due to inadequate nutrition, is making nutraceuticals the ‘must-have’ component in daily diet.

Nutraceuticals are broadly segmented into, dietary supplements and functional food & beverage. The latter occupies approximately 60% of the market share globally, owing to its ease of availability, and natural presence in most diets consumed worldwide.

Regionally, Asia-Pacific has been largest market for nutraceuticals, with dietary supplements and functional food being increasingly recommended by dieticians and physicians. Dietary supplements segment of the nutraceutical industry leads the Asia- Pacific market, while the functional foods segment is growing at a fast pace.

The worldwide trend of increasing health consciousness, rising public demand of organic & natural products, sedentary lifestyles in socio-economic scenario, rising prevalence of chronic diseases, and favorable governments support, is expected to boost the global nutraceutical market in near future.

Globally, the major watchdogs and their bylaws regulating and monitoring the nutraceuticals market are:
- Codex Alimentarius of FAO and WHO
- Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of USFDA
- Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE)
- Foods For Specified Health Use (FOSHU) in Japan
- Food Safety and Standard Act 2006 in India

The main hurdles for market are; Different regulatory bodies around the world have different approaches to nutraceuticals. For example, in Japan, functional foods are defined according to their use of natural ingredients. On the other hand, functional foods in the US usually contain ingredients that are products of biotechnology. The discrepancy, pertaining to the global nutraceuticals market, needs to be synchronized and standardized, to have a general consensus on the framework dealing with its – processing, export-import, packaging, and subsequent storage.

Low level of awareness in the role of nutraceuticals for pediatric and geriatric diseases, the affordability factor for economically challenged patients, and isolated ingredients catering to various disorders, are not easily available in developing countries. Low levels of fortification with nutraceuticals, are some of the challenges faced by nutritionists, physicians, food technologists, food chemists, as well as for manufacturers, administrators, and law-makers.

Way ahead: Strong political will, and active participation from all the stakeholders, in addressing the aforementioned challenges, coupled with uniform regulatory framework that promotes ease of doing business, will pave the way for a robust and solid growth of global nutraceuticals market.

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