THE POWER OF NUTRACEUTICALS: ENHANCING YOUR OVERALL HEALTH
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
—Hippocrates, circa 400 BC
As evidenced by the ancient Greek physician’s theories, mankind has inherently recognized the link between food and health for at least 2,500 years. However, it is only within the past half-century or so that we have vigorously tried to understand this link.
Consider the late 19th-century proverb, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It was apparently coined without any supporting research and only with a vague belief that eating such healthy food items will help maintain one’s health. It was not until 2013 that researchers determined that eating an apple a day provides the equivalent cholesterol-lowering health benefit of statin drugs for those over age 50. Subsequent research determined that daily apple eaters need fewer prescription medications overall than non-apple-eaters.
Internal medicine specialist Dr. Diane Brzezinski, D.O., has long utilized dietary considerations in her holistic approach to treating patients in the Naples, Florida area. With repeated long-term successes using nutritional changes to help treat specific conditions and improve overall health, Dr. B often relies on nutraceuticals to let her patient’s “food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” as pushed by Hippocrates. And if you’re not familiar with nutraceuticals, read on as Dr. B gives you the rundown.
Nutraceuticals are essentially Hippocrates’ proverb put into distinct practice. The term is a hybridization of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical,” which was coined in 1989 by the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, Stephen De Felice. He defined nutraceutical as a food or food component “that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and or treatment of a disease.”
Thus, nutraceuticals have been around forever; however, companies and researchers only started making a concerted effort to unlock the health secrets of all food and identify specific nutraceuticals and their benefits about 50 years ago. Prior to this, such efforts were far more isolated and more of a long-running trial and error approach—as with uncovering the secrets of Vitamin C—to determine why a particular food might seem to confer health benefits.
Today, nutraceuticals include isolated nutrients, herbal products, dietary supplements, genetically engineered food products, and other processed foods explicitly developed for their distinct health benefits. Nutraceuticals are produced and offered for sale by the food industry, pharmaceutical companies, herbal and dietary supplement firms, and pharmaceutical-agribusiness-nutrition conglomerates. Financial analysts believe that the global nutraceutical market will reach almost $450 billion by 2026, a significant increase from its $45.7 billion market value as of 2002.
HOW NUTRACEUTICALS CAN ADDRESS SPECIFIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Nutraceutical research and development has yet to peak, and scientists and governing bodies are still trying to standardize how clinical studies should be used to support the health claims of emerging and on-the-market nutraceuticals. Nutraceuticals are generally classified as potential or established, with the latter classification applied to those whose health and medical benefit claims are supported by clinical data.
While nutraceuticals can be categorized by food source, chemical nature, or mechanism of action, food source is the most widely used categorization tool. The all-natural food sources used as nutraceuticals include:
- Antioxidants—as critical nutrients in fruits and vegetables, antioxidants work singly and synergistically to help prevent oxidative reactions that can lead to several degenerative diseases and help control cell-damaging free radicals.
- Dietary fiber—promotes healthy digestion, with clinical studies showing it reduces the risk of stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and some gastrointestinal disorders. Research also indicates that increased fiber intake can lower blood pressure, improve blood glucose control in people with diabetes, aid in weight loss, and enhance the immune system.
- Polyphenols—produced by plants, there are more than 8,000 different classes of these phytochemicals, which can influence numerous cellular processes and have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and cardio-protective properties.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)—also known as Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids, PUFAs are crucial for bodily function and provide significant cardiovascular health benefits.
- Prebiotics—found in beans, peas, bananas, tomatoes, and other vegetables, these substances can beneficially alter gut microbiota metabolism in ways that may neutralize toxins, enhance the immune system, improve lactose tolerance, and convey antitumor properties.
- Probiotics—microorganisms primarily found in fermented food that can enhance intestinal microbial balance. Research suggests that probiotics can decrease the risk of systemic conditions, such as allergies, asthma, cancer, and infections of the ear and urinary tract.
- Spices—as food adjuncts used to add flavor, aroma, color, texture and/or piquancy to foods, recent research has revealed antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, chemo-preventive, and immune modulatory properties that may provide numerous health benefits.
INTEGRATING NUTRACEUTICALS INTO DAILY LIFE
To determine whether nutraceuticals may help treat a specific medical condition or integrate them into your daily life to enhance overall health, you should consult with a medical professional—like Dr. B—who is experienced with nutraceuticals and the diet’s role in health. This is especially important because some nutraceuticals may not be compatible with specific health issues and/or medications, and correct dosing is always essential to ensure optimal results. Before recommending nutraceuticals, Dr. B assesses the patient’s overall health, specific medical issues, diet, and current medications. Based on this review, she can determine which nutraceuticals can most effectively help treat medical conditions and/or improve overall health.
ENSURING SAFETY AND EFFICACY
To further ensure the safety of her patients and the efficacy of any recommended nutraceuticals, Dr. B relies on those produced under pharmaceutical-grade standards regulated by the FDA.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NUTRACEUTICALS, CONSULT WITH DR. B
To learn more about nutraceuticals and determine whether adding them to your diet can help treat a specific medical concern or enhance overall health, Dr. B would be glad to consult with you. To schedule an appointment at her Naples-based internal medicine practice, contact her office at (239) 261-9990.