Indian traditional diet has always been more complete than the balanced diet recommended in the western world. Traditionally we included in our meals various spices and herbs as prescribed by our ancestors and sages. Many of these were part of our meal as vegetables or for making the food taste better. However, they served more than just provide nutrients and filled out stomachs. They provided us phytochemicals that reduced the risk of several diseases. They are nutraceuticals. They do not provide us nutrients and they are not pharmaceuticals that cure diseases. They are bridge between the two, thus the name nutraceuticals.
Cost of treatment of diseases is rising rapidly. At the present rate of increase, the cost of prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases alone could reach over US$ 47 trillion in next 25 years (ClinMed J 2019). The recent Coronavirus pandemic has shown that the treatment costs are not going to be affordable. So there is tremendous attraction for prevention rather than cure of diseases so more recently nutraceuticals have become extremely popular and their market is rapidly increasing. The current global market by different estimates is between US$ 117 (IJPAB 2017) and 199 billion (Biomedical 2019) and could reach in next 5 to 7 years to between US $ 578 (jbkwellnesslabs 2020) and 722 billion (IJDDR 2021).
Indian nutraceuticals industry, although small compared to global market, is set to grow quite swiftly from the current US$ 4 billion to over 18 billion by end of 2025 (Trade.gov 2020). This is actually an incomplete picture as large portion of the industry and trade is in unorganised sector. Many vaidyas prepare their own medicine and supplements made from many of these botanicals like shatavari, ashwagandha, brahmi, and many others from which they prepare concoctions that work besides medicines, such nutraceuticals preparations like chyavanprash are prepared to provide immunity as well as reduce risks of many diseases. There are many small units preparing such products and are not accounted for in these statistics. Many such units are now getting registration and come under the organised category increasing overall growth.
Indians are traditionally used to many such preparations so they accept these more readily than the western consumers who are used to allopathy. Even western markets are now getting nutraceuticals based on ayurvedic ingredients and substances like curcumin, capcaisin and others are getting recognition they deserve.
Some of the traditional ingredients used in foods like vegetables, spices and herbs etc contain substances that have ability to reduce the risk of diseases. Some examples may be lycopene in tomatoes and omega-3 fatty acids in marine fish. Such foods may be called functional foods and may also include fortified foods which include added vitamins and minerals. Functional foods may be consumed as part of regular diet. Non-traditional nutraceuticals are ones in which extracts, or isolates are prepared and added to foods or may be delivered in powder, tablet or capsule formats.
Health Benefits of Nutraceuticals (Nasri et al. 2014, Jha et al. 2021)
Nutraceuticals may be useful in improving health, delay aging process, prevent some chronic diseases, and supporting functions of body. They have received much support and interest because of the potential nutritional and therapeutic benefits along with the safety involved. Many diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes, age-related macular diseases, allergy and obesity have shown to be delayed by many different nutraceuticals and possible benefits have appeared for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well.
This is a common problem due to hypersensitivity in immune system. Since causes are difficult to trace clinical management is complex. Quercetin, a flavonol, present in vegetables like onions and broccoli, fruits like apples, berries and grapes and herbs & tea, is often used for managing allergy (Mlcek et al. 2016).
Cardiovascular disease (Nikhra 2018)
This disease tops the list of global mortality causes and presents in many forms like cardiac failure, blockage, hypertension, stroke etc. and needs immediate surgical intervention. Timely precautions can prevent at least half the cases. Besides, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, dietary and fibres supported by exercise are recommended. Flavonoids from vegetables and fruits are designed as nutraceuticals for cardiac disease. Some of the other substances useful are melatonin, serotonin, dietary indole amines, tannins etc. have shown benefits for reducing risk of heart diseases. Also these nutraceuticals do not leave any residual effects.
Cancer therapy (Calvani et al. 2020)
Cancer patient number is rising alarmingly. The treatment revolves around chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and may create complexity due to side effects. Nutraceuticals are perfect to fill the gap in cancer treatment as they have least side effects and do not show any resistance. Carotenoids like lycopene have shown potency in various cancers. Formulations and extracts including isoflavones, tannins and such substances like curcumin, gallic acid, and caffeic acid show good potency against many cancers. Carotenoids including beta-carotene with free radical scavenging property are particularly useful.
Regular diet of fruits can provide different nutraceuticals like cysteine, vitamins C & E, lycopene that are useful in preventing cancer. Some substances like glucosinolates are effective in colon, lung, breast and liver cancer.
Available medicines have diverse adverse effects so there is a demand for alternatives. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens and are being tested for type 2 diabetes with promising results (Kuryłowicz 2021).
Several nutraceuticals of natural dietary origin display protective properties in certain age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Some flavonoids, some vitamins and other natural substances have been shown to be beneficial in maintain good cognitive performance (Mecocci et al. 2014).
AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration)
AMD represents retinal disorder leading to irreversible blindness in old-age. Certain nutraceutical antioxidants like lutein, resveratrol etc. are known to reduce the risk of developing AMD (Pinelli et al. 2020).
There are many other applications of nutraceuticals in reducing many more diseases for which the treatments are expensive and with many side effects. Thus alternatives become very attractive.