Today's market is flooded with many supplements or foods, labelled as Nutraceutical. This article is about providing the scientifically based difference between nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products for your better understanding.
Pharmaceutical word is related to pharma indicating medicine or drug. Therefore, pharmaceutical products means drugs that are used to prevent, diagnose or cure a disease. These drugs are chemically made formulations or salts of various minerals, electrolytes, etc.
Nutraceutical term has been derived from nutrition. Therefore, nutraceutical products use food or their components to provide the physiological benefit in protecting or treating the disease. For example, herbal products and dietary supplements.
Every country in this world has specific regulations and guidelines for their pharmaceutical drugs or medicines. An approval is essential from the governing body like FDA so as to get the license for the commercial use of the drug by doctors, medical practitioners and other medical experts. But this may or may not be essential for a nutraceutical product as they do not have patent protection.
Pharmaceuticals are always backed with scientific studies and clinical trials. Most of the pharmaceuticals require a doctor’s supervision and prescription but it is not compulsory for nutraceuticals.
A nutraceutical supplement may have an amino acid, vitamin, mineral, herb extract, or combination of several ingredients, for example, fish oil, green tea, ginseng extract, omega 3, etc. The goal is to naturally make our body stronger in order to fight an illness or minimise the probability of its occurrence. Studies have shown that nutraceuticals are beneficial in preventing many chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal disturbances and certain brain disorders. These health-promoting products are also used to combat allergies, infections and oxidative stress.
Pharmaceutical products are of different segments like specifically for renal disorders, cardiovascular or neurological disorders, etc. But nutraceutical products are promoted for the general well-being of all in order to prevent the disease. For example, weight management products can be used by all or a garlic extract capsule which can be used generally to promote heart functioning and keep diseases at bay. Similarly, if the lemon essential oil is extracted from lemongrass to be used by anyone, to relish the benefits then it comes under nutraceutical.
Another example of nutraceuticals is flavonoids which are used in the form of supplements for healthy heart functioning. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants found in wine, berries, grapes, pomegranate and grapefruit. These protect the vascular system, reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction. Similarly, dietary fibre intake is also associated with improved gut health, preventing or treating indigestion issues like constipation, maintaining blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Dietary fibre supplements fall under the category of nutraceuticals.
To conclude, both nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals are made with an intent to prevent, cure or treat a disease. But they vary in their origin as pharmaceuticals are synthetically made medicines but nutraceuticals may contain natural extract of food components. Pharmaceuticals have governmental sanctions as the laws are stringent for them which is not a mandate for all nutraceuticals across the world. Nutraceuticals are gaining popularity and companies are working to gather more research-based data so as to support their claims and take hold of them in the market. Along with pharmaceuticals, nutraceutical foods seem well-founded in order to prevent or manage health-related issues.
Daliu, P., Santini, A., & Novellino, E. (2019). From pharmaceuticals to nutraceuticals: bridging disease prevention and management. Expert review of clinical pharmacology, 12(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512433.2019.1552135
Nasri, H., Baradaran, A., Shirzad, H., & Rafieian-Kopaei, M. (2014). New concepts in nutraceuticals as alternative for pharmaceuticals. International journal of preventive medicine, 5(12), 1487–1499.