The World of Nutraceuticals

It has been more than two decades since Dr. Stephen DeFelice, along with Steve McNamara, Esq, introduced the coined the term “nutraceuticals” that ultimately contributed to the development of a new global industry now valued at nearly $12 billion. Popular products, such as probiotics, components of soy, tomatoes, fish, tea and an array of herbal and non-herbal extracts have been the target of considerable research since those early days. This movement within the food industry, intersected with the dietary supplements industry, has prompted the development of many health claims directed to consumers burgeoning for improved health.

The prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, continues to rise. At least one of these diseases affects more than two-thirds of those living in the United States. Thus, there are numerous opportunities for the respective industries, from cultivars planted in the fields to innovated food and food component management technologies to have a positive impact on health.

Importantly, there has been considerable research in the arenas of cancer reduction, blood lipid profile improvement, antioxidant potential, anti-inflammatory applications, and bone health. These research areas, which involve multiple disciplines, target largely plant-derived components such as isoprenoids, phenolic compounds, proteins and amino acids, carbohydrates and their derivatives, fatty acids and structured lipids, various minerals, and even microbial-impacting substances like probiotics and prebiotics.

The food chemistry of substances within these areas is quite interesting. On the other hand, what is critical to this chemistry is our understanding of their metabolism (aka metabolic fate) within the traditional ADME (absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion) assessment among humans. Most of the physiological data are derived from animal studies and cell culture models. Importantly, there is dearth of pharmacokinetics data on the majority of these compounds. For example, a few pharmacokinetic studies on resveratrol, the dominate polyphenolic in red wine, indicate maximum plasma level of this compound and its metabolites is achieved within 1-2 hours, has a half-life of about
9 hours, and is mostly eliminated within about 4 hrs via urine. Notably, only about 70% of resveratrol is absorbed.

Reaching beyond nutraceuticals, research is leaning towards pharmanutrition. Again, using resveratrol as an example for clinical implications, such as inflammation and cardiovascular disease, it takes about 60 mg daily for at least 6 weeks to reduce some forms of inflammation, and as much as 500 mg to reduce risk some factors associated with cardiovascular disease. Considering some red wines may contain as much as 4 – 6 mg of resveratrol per 4 oz (120 mL) serving, one would need to routinely consume 15 to 100 servings to achieve some of these health benefits.

The concept of nutraceuticals and functional foods has considerable merit. The research in this arena requires additional research in chemistry, classic clinical assessments, and traditional pharmacological evaluation consistent with standards outlined by the International Conference on Harmonization. For consumer benefits and clinical applications future studies must consist of well-designed clinical trials. In addition, the nutraceutical industry must provide sufficient evidence that is strong, consistent, clinically relevant, and generalizable to the population.

Roger Clemens
President, Institute of Food Technologists