Nutraceuticals: What they are, what they are for and possible side effects


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Nutraceutical is a type of food supplement that contains bioactive compounds in its composition, which have been extracted from food. It has many benefits to the body and it can be used to complement treatment of various diseases.

The term nutraceutical is used to name a specific nutrient present in a food, but not the food itself or the medicine. For example, lycopene is a bioactive compound found in tomatoes, phytoesterois and resveratrol are compounds found in grape skin and wine.

They can be purchased in natural product stores and pharmacies in form of capsules, tablets, sachets, dietary supplements or they can be formulated in compounding pharmacies. However, it is important that they are taken according to the doctor’s prescription or a nutritionist. This is because it contains high concentrations of a particular compound compared to the source of food. For this reason it can have adverse health consequences.

What is it for?

Nutraceuticals are bioactive compounds that can be used to meet the body’s requirements in just a single capsule. Some of the most common nutraceuticals are omega-3, lycopene, resveratrol, phytoesterois, probiotics, vitamins, minerals and fibers.

Nutraceuticals participate in various processes in the body and for this reason, they have several benefits that can be used in several situations, the main ones being:

  • Regulation of cholesterol level and prevention of the development of cardiovascular diseases
  • Regulation of the amount of sugar in the blood, helping to control and prevent diabetes
  • Improved bowel function and promotion of gastrointestinal health;
  • Improved bone health
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Regulation of thyroid hormones
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Although it may have several benefits, it is important the use of nutraceuticals is done cautiously according to the guidance of a nutritionist as high intake may have adverse health effects. In addition, it is important the their use is done in conjunction with healthy habits such as practicing physical activity and consumption of a healthy diet.

What is the difference between nutraceuticals and functional foods?

Despite aiding in various body processes, nutraceuticals are different from functional foods. Functional foods correspond to the food itself, which is already in its own form ready for intake, while nutraceuticals are substances that are extracted from the food itself then presented in form of capsules or tablets.

Moreover, functional foods are considered to be whole foods which have been enriched or improved so that they may increase their benefits in the body.

Possible side effects

Nutraceuticals have a higher concentration of specific compounds than what is normally found in food. Therefore, it is ideal that the doctor or nutritionist prescribes the right and recommended amounts so as to avoid any health consequences.

Therefore, depending on the type of nutraceutical consumed, there may be symptoms of intoxication or intolerance to the compound. Some of which may be increased risk of kidney stones and impaired function of the organ, increased gas production, reaction with other medicines, diarrhoea, colic as well as abdominal distention.

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