Due to an increase in individual life expectancy, greater media coverage, enhanced interest in “greening issues” and natural systems, consumers areunderstandably more interested in food and its components which can either delay or prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer etc.
The nutraceuticals (defined as food or part of a food providing medical or health benefits including the prevention of
disease) market has grown substantially over the last decade and this trend is continuing. In Europe, the growth rate of phytotherapeutics has been reported to be greater than that for pharmaceuticals hence there are tremendous opportunities for nutraceuticals based companies to enter this emerging market. Nutraceuticals manufacturers tend to be limited to the major international food and drink producers that can afford the high costs of research and development and promotion, however, the number of companies involved in this sector has been increasing as its high growth rate continues. This sector of the market is also becoming increasingly dominated by retailers own labels, with mixed retailers, drug stores, health-food shops and grocery multiples gaining market share with their own brands at the expense of brands sold through these outlets and all sales through multiple chemists.
The key issues which will restrict the sales of nutraceuticals are European legislative changes, pharmaceutical safety, demographic changes and the labelling laws; however these are currently being addressed. This is important because nutraceuticals contain compounds that are foreign to humans (xenobiotics) and are subject to the same pharmacological issues encountered by synthetic therapeutic agents. It is likely that the area of nutraceuticals will move to the concept of "personalised medicine" in the future, this is in part due to the success of the Human Genome Project. There have been advances in the fields of nutrigenomics (study of the interaction of dietary components with the genome) and nutrigenetics (understanding the gene-based differences in response to dietary components), hence it would be possible for the consumers to adopt a "personalised nutrition" approach.
Much of the evidence in support of the nutraceuticals has come from epidemiological studies which have shown that diets rich in fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices may reduce the incidence of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Due to this the active ingredients have been isolated from these sources and are now marketed as nutraceuticals, some well known ones are garlic and lycopene (may prevent cardiovascular disease), green tea and echinacea (may stimulate the immune system), milk thistle (may assist liver function) etc. However, not all nutraceuticals have been put through scientific evaluation and this needs to be put right so consumers and health professionals are better protected and informed.
Nutraceuticals are currently receiving recognition as being beneficial in coronary heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and other chronic degenerative diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Scientific evidence now points to the fact that mechanistic actions of nutraceuticals involve a wide array of biological processes, including activation of antioxidant defences, signal transduction pathways; cell survival-associated gene expression and anti-inflammatory action. This is supported by data from scientific studies which are providing mechanisms of action to explain the therapeutic effects, and randomised controlled trials are providing the necessary evidence for their incorporation into clinical usage. The usage of nutraceuticals can not only provide health benefits to the consumers but may also reduce the financial burden on the health service. They are in general safe and well tolerated but it's important that clinical studies are conducted as to verify their biochemical and physiological effects and rule out any adverse reactions so the nutraceuticals can be recommended to consumers and health professionals with confidence.
Reader in Physiological Biochemistry / Academic Recruitment Co-ordinator
School of Biomolecular Sciences
Back to top