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Eat Your Medicine: Nutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Nutraceuticals: Let Food Be The Medicine Nutraceuticals: Let Food Be The Medicine

Over the past few decades, the world has witnessed the explosive growth of a multi-billion dollar nutraceutical industry. Nutraceuticals, a term combining the words nutrition and pharmaceutical, are foods or food products that provide health and medical benefits.

Nutraceutical-rich vegetables and fruits are not only an important component of a nutritious diet, they are medicinal foods that play a role in maintaining well-being, enhancing health, modulating immunity and thereby preventing, as well as treating, specific diseases. 

The exploration and exploitation of the disease-fighting properties of a multitude of phytochemicals found in both food and non-food plants have created a renaissance in human health and nutrition research. At the same time, many opportunities for the development of novel dietary products have been created. Such products may range from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and specific diets to genetically engineered foods, herbal products and processed foods such as cereals, soups and beverages.

Nutraceuticals may be an emerging industry, but it has ancient beginnings. About 2000 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, said that people should “Let food be the medicine.” The Indians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Sumerians are just a few civilizations that have provided evidence suggesting that food can be effectively used as medicine to treat and prevent disease; this fact was supported by Ayurveda, the five thousand year old ancient Indian health science. The modern nutraceutical market began to develop in Japan during the 1980s, and has continued to grow ever since, as new technologies, along with increased awareness, drive it’s exploration and expansion.

In recent years there is a growing interest in nutraceutical to provide an alternative to modern medicine. By using nutraceuticals, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate the need for conventional medications. Such products include food supplements, dietary supplements, and value-added processed foods, as well as non-food supplements like pills.

Food products used as nutraceuticals contain chemically active compounds that are derived from fruits, vegetables and different type of herbal foods. The most common of these compounds are phytochemicals antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fibers

Research has proven that foods with phytochemicals, including carotenoids found in carrots or even lycopene from tomatoes, may help to provide protection from diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
It has been suggested by various epidemiological and animal model studies that nutraceuticals, mostly phytochemicals extracts from nutritional or medicinal plants such as tea, garlic, tomato, ginger, soya beans and others, may have chemopreventive activity.

Thus, the nutraceutical field can be envisioned as one of the missing blocks in improving the overall health of all humans. Furthermore, the research proving that nutraceuticals are efficacious to treat and prevent various disease conditions is growing every day.

Role of nutraceuticals in treating various disease conditions 

Research studies have found that the mechanisms nutraceuticals use to offer benefits such as reducing cancer incidence, are closely related to apoptosis, more commonly known as programmed cell death. While this may sound scary, it is actually a beneficial process found in all multicellular organisms. There is a vast amount of information in the literatures demonstrating various nutraceuticals supporting apoptosis in cultured human cells.

Table 1: Table shows the various phytochemicals used in disease prevention by their apoptotic action

1. Flavonoids

Obtain from black tea
Theaflavin (TF-1)
• Theaflavin-3-gallate and theaflavin-3’-gallate (TF-2)
• Theaflavin-3 3’-digallate (TF-3)


Obtain from green tea
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) also known as epigallocatechin 3-gallate.


Genistein, quercetin, rutin.

Induce apoptosis in human stomach cancer cells, virally transformed human fibroblasts, and hepatoma cells. 


Apoptotic in human lymphoid leukemic cells, human carcinoma cells, lung tumor cell lines, colon cancer cells, breast cancer cells, virally transformed human fibroblasts, prostate cancer cells, stomach cancer cells, brain tumor cells, head and neck squamous carcinoma, and cervical cancer cells.


Inhibit carcinogenesis in tumor cells

2. Carotenoids

Obtain from tomato
Lycopene and β-carotene.

Inhibit carcinogenesis in tumor cells.
Induce apoptosis in prostate cancer cells and malignant lymphoblast cells by DNA fragmentation, poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) cleavage, and caspase-3activation.

 3. Stilbenes Obtain from grapes, peanuts, and pines

Resveratrol (3,5,4-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene)

Induces apoptosis and inhibits the growth of various human tumor cells, including oral squamous carcinoma, promyelocytic leukemia, human breast cancer cells, prostate cancer cells, esophageal carcinoma cells by induction of p53 at the mRNA and protein levels.
 4. Sulphur containing compounds Obtain from garlic.

Diallyl-sulfide and diallyl-disulfide

Obtain from Brassica plants (e.g., broccoli and cauliflower)
Isothiocyanates such as sulforaphane

Induce apoptosis in lung cancer cells, prostate cancer, breast cancer cells by changing Bax to Bcl-2 ratio in cells.

Induces apoptosis in colon cancer cells, prostate cancer cells, and leukemia cells by increasing of Bax in the treated cells.


As Flavonoids:

Flavonoids are found ubiquitously in all pigmented plants (specifically such as the catechins). The most common group of polyphenolic compound ingested by humans in their diet through variety of food sources like: fruits and vegetables. The widespread distribution of flavonoids, their variety and their relatively low toxicity compared to other active plant compounds make it rich of any other compound found in plants with a significant health benefits.

They have shown to have a wide variation in biological and pharmacological activities. They are well researched for anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, antiviral, anti-cancer and as antioxidant activities. They also have shown to inhibit topoisomerases enzyme and induce DNA mutations in the mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) gene.

As Terpenoids:

Terpenoids are the most diverse and largest class of plant natural products with wide industrial application, including provitamin A, vitamin E, flavors, pharmaceuticals, perfumes, insecticides, and anti-microbial agents. Other valuable terpenoid compounds that have been modified include the introduction of b-carotene to tomato fruits and rice and zeaxanthin to potato tubers. Tomato is a major food crop and the principal source of the carotenoid lycopene. Epidemiological studies have clearly shown the great benefits of consumption of tomato to human health due to tomato carotenoids, mainly lycopene, b- carotene, and lutein

Hence, the advances in the areas of food technology food biochemistry and the nutritional sciences (including nutritional genomics) are providing consumers with access to fresh and often supplemented produce with recognizable health benefits that previously were not available. 

The Future of Nutraceuticals 

Nutraceuticals are intended to play a significant role in future therapeutic advancement, but their victory will be governed by direction of purity, safety, and efficacy without reducing innovation. Nutraceuticals will continue to lead because they are suitable for today’s lifestyle. Some are also authentically researched and offer novel ingredients that can bring about health profits faster than would normally be the case through eating conventionally healthy foods alone. Public health authorities consider prevention and treatment with nutraceuticals a commanding gadget in maintaining health and to perform against nutritionally induced acute and chronic diseases, thereby promoting optimal health, longevity and quality of life.

A place for nutraceuticals in clinical practice is rising, but important pharmaceutical and clinical issues need to be addressed by further research. However, with all of the aforementioned positive points, nutraceuticals still need support of an extensive scientific study to prove their effects with reduced side effects.

The next discoveries and innovations in nutraceuticals may come from a large pharmaceutical and biotechnological company, such as Monsanto, DuPont or Novartis, all of which are investing significant resources in their investigations. However, many of the most significant nutraceutical applications thus far have come from independent researchers and health supplement companies. Therefore, one should keep an eye on more than the big corporations when looking for the next major nutraceutical breakthrough.  

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Last modified on Thursday, 28 November 2013 11:04

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