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Nutraceuticals from ancient times to present

Nutraceutical compounds are health enhancing products that support mental and physical body functions.

Many plants have been used for their healing properties along the human history. The oldest written document that included 12 different  recipes of plant extracts used for medicinal purposes was discovered on Sumerian clay tablet in Nagpur (around 5000 years ago). Civilizations and cultures such as ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese  used  plants to treat and prevent diseases . For example ginseng has been used in China, turmeric, thyme, garlic,  in Ancient Egypt and cinnamon was considered of great value in both Roman and ancient Egyptian civilizations.

What are nutraceuticals?

The term nutraceutical was originally introduced  in 1989 by Dr. Stephen L. DeFelice, founder and chairman of the Foundation of Innovation Medicine (FIM). 

Nutraceutical compounds are health enhancing products that support mental and physical body functions. Based on US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) definition, most nutraceuticals would be categorized as “dietary supplements” and are considered “pharmaceutical grade” nutrients consumed for a health benefit. 

Nutraceuticals include vitamins, minerals, herbs (are leaves mainly from herbaceous plants),  plants’ extracts that are consumed individually or in various combinations .

Is nutraceutical industry regulated? 

The Congress enacted  the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which became law in 1994. While manufacturers and distributors do not need FDA approval to sell their dietary supplements (unlike prescription and over-the -counter medications), FDA regulates US supplements market by monitoring manufacturers’ labeling and claims , to assure that the products are free of contaminants and accurately labeled.

Manufacturers and distributors have to comply with FDA regulations that are included in the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) , a system designed to ensure that nutraceuticals are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards.

Who should take nutraceuticals and what to expect?

Nutraceuticals have many beneficial effects and have been used to help managing  and preventing health conditions, such as inflammation, cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, obesity, diabetes depression, joint and bone diseases, gastrointestinal symptoms. Some nutraceutical products are used to support normal body functions like immunity, weight control, memory and concentration , to increase energy level, or as anti-aging and antioxidant agents . Potential benefits of natural supplements are numerous and related to a large variety of health challenges. 

People take  supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion.

 Everyone’s body is different and the effectiveness ( time to onset , duration and intensity of expected effects) can vary from person to person. 

Great majority of supplements have few and side effects are reported rarely. They can interact with prescription medications however, like for example blood thinners and antidepressants. That is why it is wise and advised to consult with your physician before starting a new formula of nutraceuticals, especially if you are taking multiple prescription medications. Always follow the dosage as recommended on the product label.

by Daniela Addeo MD MBA

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