In recent years the demand for nutraceuticals, as a food product, is growing very fast. In India alone there are close to a 100 nutraceutical products that are being marketed here. The apex food regulator ‘FSSAI’ has realized that this is a sector that is on the rise and hence a whole set of new standards is being finalized for this food segment. Meanwhile, those who wish to make an entry into this sector have to go through the product approval process as stated under Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
Besides other factors the popularity of nutraceuticals can be attributed to two main reasons
- scientific evidence is emerging that gives rise to the fact that diet can prevent disease
- technological advancement in the food industry has made it easier to provide consumers with these health promoting foods
There is evidence to prove that more people die of obesity than starvation. Consumers therefore are beginning to list nutraceuticals high on their list of factors that help them manage weight, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc. Consumers the world over are now beginning to consider nutraceuticals as being more beneficial than physical exercise.
Can nutraceuticals help fight disease?
Many centuries ago Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine had said “let food be your medicine and medicine your food.” Today there is proof that foods and extracts of foods may help us to live longer as we better our diet of nutraceuticals. Ancient Indian ‘Ayurveda’ is basically a nutraceutical based alternative medicinal form. Since nutraceuticals are plant based they are being viewed by the consumer as
- safer and natural alternatives to health care which are not likely to have side effects
- foods that will give them more energy rather than a cure
- will prevent them from getting certain diseases like cancer
- will offer better quality of life for those suffering from diseases like osteoporosis
If the trends can be read rightly, then it seems that nutraceuticals are going to revolutionise the food industry. As lifestyle and eating habits of people change, the demand for better and safer food alternatives will increase. Some observers feel that nutraceuticals are likely to become a research oriented food industry.
Important to build credibility
Since India is emerging as a big player in the nutraceutical sector it is important to develop documentation based on clinical evidence. Also credibility about the safety and efficacy of any product can be achieved only through scientific evidence. The existing research and scientific data is based only on the extracts taken from plants or on components of plants which serve as ordinary food. If nutraceuticals are being seen as ‘wonder food’ that will promote health and prevent disease then it is understood that these claims will need to have solid scientific backing.
- Toxologists, scientists, nutritionists and health professionals will have to work together to ensure that ingredients are safe and in permitted proportions.
- The interaction between drugs being taken for a specific medical condition at the same time as a nutraceutical for food needs to be thoroughly researched.
- The effect of the various processing methods on foods and their continuing to be effective has to be studied.
Companies, even in India, that have been able to provide scientific data through testing or through clinical tests have been able to market their products with authenticity. Consumers also prefer products that have been tested and which have proved to be safe.