Dr. Stephen DeFelice is often credited with having coined the term nutraceuticals, also spelled neutraceuticals, in 1989. The word is a marriage of the two words nutrition and pharmaceuticals. It is often used to describe the many dietary supplements derived from plants that may have benefits to the body or may supply the body with essential fatty acids, proteins or other nutrients. As well, foods with such benefits may also be termed nutraceuticals, or functional foods.
Some fortified foods are examples of nutraceuticals or functional foods. For example milk fortified with vitamin D, or with enzymes that help digest milk for those that are lactose intolerant are considered functional. Orange juice fortified with Vitamin C or with calcium is another type of functional food. Typically, the label of nutraceuticals refers to dietary supplements. So in a sense, orange juice and milk that are fortified contain nutraceuticals and are thus functional foods.
Usually nutraceuticals are considered natural since they are prepared from food substances, and not from chemical reproductions of substances naturally found in food. Some women might use estrogens found in wild yams or soy. In this case, they are using nutraceuticals. Women who take chemically produced estrogen not made from plant or food substances are not using nutraceuticals.
A further distinction may be applied to products derived from plants that are used in the form of creams or lotions. These are often called cosmeticeuticals. Some women, for example, use wild yam extracted estrogen in a lotion form, and thus use a cosmeticeutical.
Some nutraceuticals are well known and widely accepted as beneficial supplements. This is particularly the case with folic acid. Women who take folic acid prior to getting pregnant significantly lower their risk of having a child with neural tube defects, for example.
Other nutraceuticals are used for their antioxidant properties, such as antifungals, antiseptics, or for anti-aging purposes. Some are used to lower cholesterol or reduce risk of heart disease, like fish oil and flaxseed supplements, which contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
Many vitamins, when derived from plants, are nutraceuticals, but that is only the jumping off point. Herbal supplements are now particularly popular and include things like black cohosh, kava, tyrosine, and resveratrol.
What must be understood about some nutraceuticals is that claims of these nutritional supplements may not be supported by research. In fact, almost the whole market of nutritional supplements is excluded from the kind of rigorous testing required to approve prescription medications. So some claims on nutraceuticals may be highly exaggerated or actually false.
As well, nutraceuticals need to be treated as medicine. They may potentially interact with each other or with prescribed medication. Some can have abortive effects on pregnant women or should not be consumed by children. One should ask one’s doctor before using nutraceuticals on a child or if one has certain conditions that might be harmed by certain nutraceuticals. Not all nutritional supplements are beneficial to all people, and some of them can be harmful to some people.