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“What are nutraceuticals?”"ask clarks" header

A question from Alexis of Chino

By Clark’s Nutrition

The term nutraceuticals was coined by Dr. Stephen L. DeFelice M.D. circa 1989. Dr. DeFelice is the founder and chairman of the Foundation of Innovation Medicine. Nutraceuticals comes from two words, nutrition and pharmaceuticals. At the time nutraceutical was defined as “any food or parts of food that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention or treatment of diseases”. Remember, that Dr. DeFelice is a medical doctor and has the ability to use medicine and nutraceuticals for “treatment” of disease. Most companies using the name nutraceuticals today are implying the use for ‘health and disease prevention’. The products that are suggested as being ‘nutraceutical’ apply to ranges of isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and herbal products. These products could also be used to target specific diets using processed or fortified foods such as cereals, soups, and beverages.  The list typically does not include vitamins and minerals in today’s definition. A great example is seen with isolated amino acids which are known as “free form”. We see protein foods that may have an over abundance of amino acids but to isolate the substance makes it more bio-available to the system. BCCA (Branched Chain Amino Acids) amino acids have been used for muscle loss prevention, a medical condition known as sarcopenia, as well as muscle recovery in many double blind studies to date. While protein consumption post work out is ideally effective, whey proteins typically stack up to be one of the most effective forms of protein, making BCAA and whey protein ‘nutraceuticals’.

The term “functional foods” has also been added to link consumption of certain foods or food products to help with disease prevention and improved health benefits. This has largely been a by-product, so to speak, from Japanese identification and regulation of ‘foods for specified health use’. Since 1991 over 600 foods have been identified as ‘functional foods’ in Japan. This identification is used to alert individuals to eat these valuable foods for increased health and disease prevention.

Another term that is commonly used in the media and household verbiage is super foods. A super food is an older term that was used over 100 years ago when food abundances were less and nutrient deficiencies were more common from refined foods. Super foods like cod liver oil provides vitamins A, D and omega 3 fatty acids. If anyone has a deficiency in one of these nutrients they might find relief of the symptom when consuming the super food. Today food fortification and typically more readily accessible foods have prevented stark nutritional deficiencies in the United States. Super foods today often include powdered fruits and vegetables because of our habitual inability to consume these foods on a daily and regular basis. These super foods, when consumed every day help us maintain good health and help with disease prevention.

Remember that the consumption of nutraceuticals, functional foods and super foods should be part of a daily diet and longevity plan.


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  1. Huntington College of Health Sciences Introduction to Nutraceuticals.