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Nutraceuticals: What are They and Do You Need Them, According to Experts

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Blue Star Nutraceuticals and Magnum Nutraceuticals are a couple of our most popular supplement brands. What do they have in common? Among other things, these two brands share a term that’s unique to the supplement world—nutraceutical.

You might have heard the term before, and if so, you probably recognize the marriage of two familiar terms: nutrient and pharmaceutical. By defining each term (a nourishing food and a medical drug, respectively), you likely have a pretty good guess as to what a nutraceutical is.

However, just because you can make an educated assumption doesn’t mean you fully understand—so, let’s talk about what exactly a nutraceutical is and if you need them. 

What is a Nutraceutical?

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A nutraceutical is a product that provides nutritional and medicinal benefits and is made from food. This could include sport and nutritional supplements, function or medical foods, diet products, and more.

These products are designed to use foods for their potential medicinal properties and provide health benefits, including reducing the risk for chronic illnesses and disease.

History of the Term Nutraceutical

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Although it might sound like a new term, it was actually coined in 1989 by the founder of an American organization known as the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine. His name is Dr. Stephen DeFelice, and he started his foundation to “accelerate medical discovery by creating a more productive clinical research community.”

While the term can be traced to its origin, there is no widely accepted definition, and it varies from country to country. That being said, the general idea is that food is a powerful thing, and when used correctly, it can treat and prevent illness. Nutraceuticals attempt to make the process of using food as medicine easier.

How do Nutraceuticals Work?

As you can probably guess by our definition above, nutraceuticals work by providing the body with the nutrients required to carry out essential functions ranging from growing to healing and so on. Worldwide, modern diets are failing to meet nutritional needs for various reasons. Nutraceuticals can help bridge the gap between what we eat and what our bodies require.

Nutrients are the chemical elements that come together to form food.

They can be broken up into two groups:

  1. Macronutrients
  2. Micronutrients
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Macronutrient refers to the nutrients needed in large quantities—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Micronutrient refers to the vitamins and minerals needed in relatively small amounts. Overall, we can think of macronutrients as energy providers and micronutrients as the vital nutrients required to carry out all the cell processes.

For the most part, people are good at consuming adequate macronutrients, but they’re not always very good at consuming the necessary micronutrients. That’s why multivitamins are such a popular supplement—and yes, they count as nutraceuticals.

What Are the Types of Nutraceuticals?

So, nutraceuticals is a general umbrella term. They can be broken up into various subcategories depending on who you ask. We view them as functional food nutraceuticals or supplemental nutraceuticals.

Functional Food Nutraceuticals

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Functional foods can be defined as foods that provide a health benefit other than their basic nutrition. So, what’s that mean? Functional foods often have something additional added to them to make them more nutrient-dense than they are naturally.

Some common examples of functional foods include fortified cereals and beverages or yogurts with probiotics. Also growing in popularity are foods with added protein like granola bars or cereals like oatmeal.

Supplemental Nutraceuticals

Supplemental nutraceuticals can be liquid, powder, pills, or capsules and are better known as any of the following:

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  • nutritional supplements
  • dietary supplements
  • sports supplements
  • vitamins

Regardless of the way you consume nutraceuticals, the idea is to provide your body with the necessary nutrients that you might not get from diet alone with the help of supplements or functional foods.

Our Stance on Nutraceuticals

We’ve said many times and will continue to say that real, whole food sources of nutrients are almost always the best way to consume the nutrients your body needs. We believe in supplements and nutraceuticals to do just that—supplement your diet. Use these products to bridge the gaps in your nutrition while you continue to eat a balanced diet daily.

Benefits of Nutraceuticals

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Lists of benefits are always tricky to do with broad terms like nutraceuticals but providing your body with the vital nutrients to perform its everyday functions has innumerable health and wellness benefits.

Assuming you’re using an honest, trusted, third-party tested supplement brand that contains only the ingredients it lists on the label, functional foods and supplemental nutraceuticals have the following potential health benefits:

General Health Benefits of Nutraceuticals

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  • improved eye health
  • prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and more
  • boosted immune function
  • improved digestive health
  • support reproductive health for both men and women
  • reduced inflammation and inflammatory diseases
  • better sports performance and recovery
  • improved mental health and overall wellbeing

What’s the Downside of Nutraceuticals?

So, all this good stuff said, is there any downside? Of course, there are potential downsides as with anything in life.

When you ingest substances like functional foods and dietary supplements, there is a risk of:

  • allergic reaction
  • interaction with prescribed pharmaceuticals or other dietary supplements you might be using
  • micronutrient toxicity

In addition to these risks, using nutraceuticals can potentially cause micronutrient toxicity. Toxicity happens when a person exceeds the daily recommended limits of vitamins or minerals. It is most common with the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, as these vitamins aren’t excreted from the body the way water-soluble vitamins are.

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Micronutrient toxicity is rare when consuming food alone, but the risk increases when you’re consuming supplements every day. To avoid this, you should be aware of the upper limits that exist for each nutrient that your supplements contain. Always take the ingredient lists from all your supplements into account.

At the end of the day, nutraceuticals are products designed to provide your body with nutrients that you might not otherwise consume. They can be an excellent way to supplement your diet and ensure you’re giving your body what it needs for optimal health.

As with anything you put in your body, there are some risks associated with using nutraceuticals. You should research upper limits and always discuss your concerns with a trusted medical professional.

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