Nutraceutical is a synchratic neologism of “nutrition” and “pharmaceuticals” coined by Dr. Stephen DeFelice in 1989. Nutraceuticals are those nourishing agents contained in foods that have beneficial effects on both physical and mental health. They are found in nature, but industrial transformation tends to eliminate them or to decrease their activity. Nutraceuticals can be extracted, synthesized and used as food supplements. It is rarer to find them naturally and in sufficient quantities to obtain benefits. The minimum quantities of nutrients to obtain benefits are governed by European regulations (eg Regulation 432/2012) in which the claims that can be used are listed. Nutraceutical foods are also commonly referred to as functional foods, alicamenti, pharma food. These are such if the food naturally contains the nutrients in the minimum quantities required by the regulations, or if they are added with concentrated nutraceutical extracts. Often the latter are obtained through chemical syntheses and in this case this must be specified on the label.
In reality, a distinction should be made between Nutraceutical and Functional food or Pharma food, where the first indicates a specific substance extracted from food with certain medicinal qualities, while the second means a real (or added) food that directly shows beneficial properties through its introduction into the diet. The two types, Nutraceutical and Functional Food, are however not so different: indeed they are often used interchangeably as synonyms.
In fact, certain foods contain numerous nutraceutical substances, so much so that they can also be defined as Nutraceuticals; for instance, “Protonutrients” contain numerous nutritional principles such as amino acids, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, mineral salts, vitamins, etc. with preventive and supportive characteristics with respect to multiple psychophysical problems and which often constitute organic parts of the various body systems and/or mediate the production of further fundamental substances or also to allow specific vital functions.
For what has been said, Nutraceuticals are not nutritional supplements, but biological substances, usually concentrated, having preventive, rebalancing, therapeutic and protective characteristics on a psychophysiological level, contained in certain foods. Moreover, the foods themselves are defined in this way, which are characterized by the presence of these beneficial substances.
These foods are called Functional foods or Pharma foods and they associate the pharmaceutical properties of natural active ingredients with nutritional factors. In this way, they better integrate the diet and enrich and complete it by providing useful molecules against possible diseases, aging, external negative agents, free radicals, psychophysical stress, etc. They are also essential for the general functioning of the body and mind.
Finally, there are certain foods to which specific nutraceutical substances are added, making them also functional for the recovery and/or maintenance of both internal and external well-being. In recent years, an increasing and varied quantity of foods enriched with beneficial molecules have been placed on the market. Examples are milk and yogurt added with Coenzyme Q10, Sterols, Omega 3 and/or Vitamins, but also drinks, fruit juices, biscuits, breakfast cereals, etc. have become the vehicle of the aforementioned nutraceutical principles. Further examples are Selenium potatoes, energy bars with amino acids and vitamins of group B, corn flakes combined with folic acid and mineral salts.
Therefore, a varied and balanced diet allows to introduce the main nutraceuticals that are very important, and sometimes fundamental, for the good functioning and general well-being of the person. Among other things, the various Nutrients and the different nutraceutical principles combine and integrate into the various foods available in a unique and chemically non-replicable way. In this way, supplements can be a valid help in certain moments of psycho-physical stress and fatigue, in case of excessive diets or deficient diets, as well as to facilitate the body’s antioxidant processes, but not in the same way as molecules. nutrients and nutraceuticals that have multidirectional relationships of activation, influence and increase in efficacy in food.
Various substances belong in the group of nutraceuticals; among them the main ones are:
Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3/Omega 6): Molecules that make up most of the lipids. They have a protective action on the cardio-circulatory system, preventing deposits of “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and blood clots, and they are fundamental components and mediators of the nervous system, to which they also provide protection. They also keep the cell membrane elastic and permeable, the dermal system in good conditions and mediate the production of other essential substances for functioning and organic well-being. Omega 3 and 6 are also called Vitamin F and are present in foods such as shellfish, dried fruit, legumes, cod liver oil, seed oils, olive oil, fish, oilseeds, currants, eggs, grapes, saffron , green leafy vegetables.
Anthranilic acid: amino acid with the function of tryptophan coenzyme, another amino acid important for the functioning and maintenance of healthy neuropsychic apparatus. It is also called Vitamin L.
Ascorbic acid: Substance better known as Vitamin C with great antioxidant properties. It keeps away toxic substances such as free radicals and it has the function of synthesizing amino acids, collagen and hormones. It also carries out other actions such as strengthening blood vessels, protecting the dermal system and facilitating situations of stress, inflected mood and nervousness. Vitamin C is present in foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, strawberries, berries, peppers, tomatoes, kiwis, green leafy vegetables.
Folic Acid (or Folacin): Essential nutrient for the metabolism of Amino Acids, Phospholipids and red blood cells, for neuropsychic development and for DNA synthesis. It is also called Vitamin M and is present in foods such as oranges, liver, legumes, brewer’s yeast, rice, green leafy vegetables, eggs.
Lipoic Acid (or Thioptic Acid): Nourishing lipid substance with great antioxidant function. It facilitates the transport of glucose into the cell and the general functioning of the nerve pathways. It is also called Vitamin N and is present in foods such as red meat, liver, potatoes, green leafy vegetables.
Anthocyanins (or Anthocyanins): Substances of natural origin with the function of providing colors and shades to plants (including fruit and vegetables) and belonging to the group of so-called Bioflavonoids. Specifically, they are responsible for the blue, purple, red and pink colors; in addition to the chromatic tone, they provide protection from external harmful agents. In this way, and given their strong antioxidant power, they are also proactive for the protection of the health of the human body, in particular the cardiovascular and dermal system. Anthocyanins are found in foods such as beets, onions, berries, grapes.
Bioflavonoids (or Flavonoids): Substances with powerful antioxidant, antiviral, immunostimulating and immunoprotective action. They also support and enhance the functions of Vitamin C (so much so that they are also called Vitamin C2). These molecules participate in the color differences of multiple types of fruit and vegetables, forming their peculiar pigments with other substances. Bioflavonoids are also called Vitamin P and are present in foods such as garlic, citrus fruits, apricots, cocoa, cabbage, onions, apples, tomatoes, spinach. They can also be found in beverages such as: fruit juice, tea, wine.
Caffeine: Active ingredient extracted from the Coffee Plant. It has a stimulating and invigorating action on the nervous system by inducing the release of Adrenaline and Noradrenaline. In this way, it therefore favors a psychological, cognitive and physical activation and toning.
Carnitine Amino: precursor acid of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine and producer of energy through its action on fat metabolism. In this way, this molecule is able to promote resistance to efforts and fatigue and subsequent recovery. It is in fact widely used in preparation and athletic-sports performance. It is synthesized in the liver and is found in particular in foods such as red meat and offal.
Carotenoids: Substances such as Betacarotene, Lycopene and Lutein, precursors of Vitamin A and with constitutive, mediating and protective functions towards the visual, dermal and immune systems. They also have good antioxidant properties. They are present in oranges, yellow, red and green leafy fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, apricots, watermelon, carrots, berries, melon, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, pumpkin, etc.
Coenzyme Q-10 (or Ubiquinone): coenzyme molecule of lipid origin. It has good antioxidant and oxygen transport properties on the level of cellular mitochondria; in this way it favors the synthesis and production of energy. It is also called Vitamin Q.
Choline: molecule of lipid derivation precursor of Acetylcholine, Neurotransmitter involved in psycho-cognitive processes such as calculation, memory, reasoning, concentration, thought, attention, etc. It is also called Vitamin J.
Creatine: intermediate compound of metabolic processes responsible for energy production, essential for muscle activity and produced by the liver starting from the amino acids Arginine, Glycine and Methionine. It is often used as a sports supplement or in vegetarian diets and is present in fair quantities in fish and meat, of which it is a natural constituent (in fact the name derives from the Greek “kreas”, or “meat”). The creatine requirement is covered by internal synthesis mechanisms, together with the diet. Its functions are to improve the strength, endurance and recovery of muscles by providing them with energy, as well as to the brain and heart, in moments of greatest demand or in situations of fatigue and physical exhaustion.
D-ribose: monosaccharide sugar contained in the cell and part of its important structures such as ribonucleic acid (RNA) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It is therefore an organically essential substance for the proper functioning of the individual’s metabolic mechanisms. It is also indicated in moments of fatigue, for sport and for physical endurance, given its direct effects on protein synthesis and energy metabolism.
Phycocyanins: natural molecules with powerful antioxidant action (anti free radicals), anti inflammatory and inhibiting. They also have a mediating and stimulating (dopaminergic) action on neuropsychological mechanisms and dynamics. Phycocyanins are present in green and blue algae such as spirulina (“Arthospira platensis”) or red algae (“Rhodophyta”), belonging to the “Cyanobacteria” family. The name Ficocinanina derives in fact from the Greek “phyco”, meaning “alga” and “kyanos”, meaning “cyan color” (green-blue).
Fructose: monosaccharide sugar present in most fruits and honey, hence its name, very important for different metabolic processes of the organism and for the production of fundamental substances for energy and good functioning of both the body and the mind. It is in fact converted in the liver or intestine into Glucose.
Glucosamine: monosaccharide sugar precursor of glycosylated proteins (glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans) and lipids (glycolipids). These substances are fundamental in the constitution of the structure of cartilage and tendon tissues and in countering their aging and degeneration (for example osteoarthritis, arthritis, etc.). Glucosamine can also be useful to help rebuild damaged cartilage and, as mentioned, to counteract diseases or senile problems at the osteoarticular level.
Inositol: simple sugar similar to the B vitamins; it is in fact also called Vitamin B7. It has a constituent, stimulating, nourishing and strengthening action on the nervous system and has fundamental functions of growth and nourishment of brain cells and bone marrow and nerve transmission. It acts in synergy with Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, Choline, PABA and Vitamin B6 (combined with Choline, it protects the liver, kidneys and cardiovascular system, counteracting the obstruction of the vessels through an action on the metabolism of fats and therefore reducing the blood cholesterol). This substance also facilitates the reduction of anxious, depressive and/or stressful states. It is found in foods such as: citrus fruits, meat, whole grains, liver, fresh fruit, nuts, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast.
Isoflavones: compounds of plant origin, belonging to the broader family of phyto-structures with coloring and protection functions defined as Bioflavonoids. Unlike them, however, isoflavones are colorless and present almost exclusively in leguminous plants. Through their molecules (Daidzein, Genistein, Glycitein), they cause medium-light estrogenic effects, so much so that they are grouped in the category of so called “Phytoestrogens”, on the basis of their structures and functions, similar to those of the estrogens produced organically. In this way these substances participate in the protection from some cancers by replacing estrogens, such as in the case of breast cancer, more likely in women with high levels of these hormones. Isoflavones also counteract bad cholesterol, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, side effects of menopause (for example hot flashes) and are found in foods such as chickpeas, whole grains, beans, broad beans, fennel, lentils, soybeans (the famous “Isoflavones of Soy”).
Lycopene: substance belonging to the group of Carotenoids, or compounds that participate in the coloring of plants and their fruits, which gives the tomato its characteristic red color and has a strong antioxidant and antitumor action. Working as a natural anti-aging, it also has preventive functions on possible cardiovascular and/or neurodegenerative diseases due to aging. Carotenoids, and therefore also Lycopene, are powerful antioxidants thanks to their peculiar action as free radical scavengers. The antioxidant function of Lycopene is also proactive in the prevention of cardiovascular problems, counteracting the oxidation of cholesterol and therefore the formation of dangerous atherosclerotic plaques in the blood vessels. Lycopene is present in tomatoes (its percentage is higher in more ripe and therefore more red tomatoes) and clearly in its derivatives such as sauce, ketchup or tomato paste. These tomato derivatives have an even higher percentage of Lycopene, as cooking and processing stabilize and increase the assimilable molecules of this Carotenoid. Lycopene is also found in watermelon, melon, orange, grapefruit, papaya, guava, apricot and carrots.
Brewer’s yeast: substance formed by the fermentation of colonies of unicellular micro organisms. Brewer’s yeast has the characteristic of being a rich source of a wide variety of fundamental nutrients for well-being and psycho-physical health. The nutrients it contains are Amino Acids, Carbohydrates, Proteins, Mineral Salts, Vitamins.
Maltodextrin: water-soluble carbohydrates obtained industrially by breaking down corn or potato starch, or by their chemical-physical digestion (called hydrolysis). The advantages are shorter digestion and assimilation times compared to those of complex sugars and longer than other simple sugars (Glucose or Fructose) so that the availability of energy is fast, but also protracted over time (without excessively raising the blood sugar). In this way, these substances are indicated for athletes or for intense physical activity or physiological recovery from it. There are also maltodextrin supplements added with mineral salts and / or vitamins.
Octacosanol: molecule of vegetable origin belonging to the group of phyto-molecules defined as Policosanols. It has an energetic action and a protective function at the cardiovascular level through the inhibition of a specific enzyme at the base of the synthesis of cholesterol. It is present in wheat germ oil and in the outer part of multiple fruits of various plants: it is part of the so-called Policosanols, which is a large group of phyto-molecules that make up plants.
Pycnogenol: molecule of vegetable origin belonging to the bark of the maritime pine. It has a powerful antioxidant action and is specifically composed of a mix of Bioflavonoids defined oligomeric Proanthocyanidins, i.e. consisting of several units (OPC, acronym of “Oligomeric Proantho Cyanidis”), also called Leucoanthocyanins or, precisely, Picnogenols. These substances have antioxidant functions useful in the prevention of cardiovascular pathologies, toning and keeping the vessels elastic,) and dermal diseases, also protecting from possible damage deriving from overexposure to ultraviolet rays. Finally, they protect against problems due to aging. In addition, the Pycnogenols promote the activity of Vitamin C and E, which also have important anti-oxidation virtues. Pycnogenol is found in particularly high percentages in the bark of the maritime pine, in the seeds of red grapes and in green tea.
Policosanols: mixture of phyto-molecules consisting of long-chain fatty alcohols; the main ones are Octosanol, Tetracosanol and Hexacosanol. They have medicinal properties such as those of lowering “bad” cholesterol (LDL), by means of the reduction of an enzyme at the basis of its production, and the percentage of triglycerides, as well as having an antiplatelet action in the blood, reducing the risk of formation of blockages in blood vessels. Policosanols also have important antioxidant functions and are therefore effective in contrasting free radicals; they can be found in sugar cane and wheat germ, from where they are industrially extracted to form supplements based on these substances.
Proanthocyanidins (or PACs): sub-group molecules of Bioflavonides with strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action. According to their chemical structure, they are divided into monomeric, dimeric, oligomeric and polymeric. They have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant functions, facilitating cardiovascular, dermal and ocular protection and health and counteracting possible chronic or senile infections and diseases due to free radicals. For example, they inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and preserve the integrity, elasticity and permeability of the cell membrane. Proanthocyanidins are present in many vegetables and fruits such as elderberries, cabbage, strawberries, raspberries, aubergines, apples, blueberries, blackberries, currants, tea, grapes and also in wine, contributing to their coloring and shades of chromatic tones.
Probiotics: microorganisms present in yogurt and other fermented foods. They have a proactive and protective action on the intestinal system and on the microflora that distinguishes it, restoring normal physiological parameters after any imbalances and/or gastrointestinal problems or acting as a protection towards them.
Resveratrol: substance of vegetable origin of the Polyphenol family with great antioxidant properties. It therefore possesses important protective functions against cardiovascular diseases. Resveratrol is found in the grape skin and in wine (in a higher percentage in red) produced by the vine plant (for example from the common “Vitis vinifera”), where it plays a protective role against external agents such as microorganisms (bacteria or mushrooms) and sunlight.
Mineral salts: inorganic compounds essential for the psycho-physical health of the organism as they are involved in fundamental processes of production, mediation, growth of multiple substances in the body, in the regulation of the osmotic balance of the cell and in the antioxidant action against free radicals, the passage of time, stress and external harmful agents. Among the main mineral salts there are Calcium, Chromium, Fluorine, Phosphorus, Iodine, Magnesium, Potassium, Iron, Selenium, Sodium, Zinc.
Plant Sterols (or Phytosterols): sterols are generally chemical compounds of animal origin, defined Zoosterols (for example Cholesterol) or vegetable, called Phytosterols (for example Campesterol, Sitosterol or Stigmasterol). All have essential organic roles, for instance Cholesterol is a fundamental component of the cell membrane. In particular, plant sterols have useful properties for the health of the individual as they are able to block the absorption of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) in the intestine, to the benefit of the cardiovascular system, where the excess of this substance can constitute dangerous and damaging blockages of the blood vessels. Phytosterols can be integrated with the diet and therefore through the consumption of vegetables and derivatives such as olive oil, soybean, rice, etc.
Taurine: amino acid with nourishing and stimulating psycho-physical action that improves the transport of glucose at the cellular level; it also acts against free radicals. Taurine owes its name to the fact that it was discovered in the bull’s bile; however, it is present in many other animals and serves them for the regulation of cellular mechanisms. It plays a crucial role in the synthesis of bile acids which facilitate the elimination of cholesterol; it also participates in the regulation of nerve transmission and the maintenance of the cell membrane. Finally, it has nourishing, stimulating and antioxidant properties, facilitating psychophysiological functions and counteracting cardiovascular diseases, stress and aging. Taurine is present in foods such as meat, milk, fish and eggs, but it can also be synthesized internally by two other amino acids, Cysteine and Methionine.
Theanine: amino acid with dopaminergic and serotonergic action and with good anti-stress function. It is present in tea. Theine Active ingredient extracted from the Tea Plant. It has a stimulating and anti-stress action on the nervous system. Tryptophan Essential amino acid is a precursor of Serotonin.
Vitamins: organic compounds and nutrients essential for neuropsychic and physiological health. They allow and participate in fundamental bio-chemical processes of the organism, mediate the production of many crucial organic substances and are precursors of further indispensable molecules. They also have important antioxidant functions. Among the main vitamins there are: B vitamins, Vitamin C (or Ascorbic Acid), Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan): precursor substance of Tryptophan and essential amino acid precursor of Serotonin. It is present in high concentrations in Griffonia.
The intake of certain nutraceutical substances and/or functional foods, which may result in some particular cases as an integrative psycho-physical aid, should be recommended, prescribed and followed by a doctor.
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