Nutraceuticals From Plants

Nutraceutical term was coined by Dr.Stephen DeFelice of the Foundation for innovative Medicine, at New Jersey, USA in 1989, it’s defined as the food or part of food hat provides medical or health benefits which include preservation and treatment of diseases. These are non specific biological intervention used for health promotion, in prevention of malignant processes and symptoms control. Nutraceuticals ranges from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements diet to genetically engineered “designer” food, herbal products and processed products like cereals soups and beverages. In the last few years, there has been an increasing interest towards the search and characterization of new nutraceuticals from natural sources able to provide some additional benefits for human health like antioxidants, anti inflammatories, antihypertensive, hepatoprotective, antithrombotic antiviral and anticarcinogenic activities. Owing to their safety and potential nutritional and therapeutic values, nutraceuticals have attracted considerable interest. Supplements are products derived from natural sources which are included with the diet with ingredients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, but without any therapeutic effects. However nutraceuticals have the additional advantage in the prevention or management of diseases or disorders and used as a conventional food. Nutraceuticals includes micro and macro nutrient isolates, herbs and botanicals, and isolated reagents (e.g. hormones) have emerged as an important product in the last decade. Nutraceutical growth is expected to continue to increase along with higher consumer income levels, an expanding elderly population, and greater awareness about health and nutrition.

While nutraceuticals have emerged from the identification of plants with existing health benefits, the biotech industry have began to focus on much improved nutrients and their sources. Increasing genetics manipulation techniques have allowed scientists to engineer more specific function in plants. Research and experimentation has taken place in a number of areas, including: modification of oils and fatty acids, proteins and amino acids, carbohydrates and sugars, micronutrients and functional metabolites, reduction of toxins and allergens. During the last decade, many millions of hectares have been planted worldwide with transgenic crops. Over 90% of these transgenically crops provide the agronomic properties of herbicide and pest tolerance. At present a new phase in genetic modification has began. This phase can be considered the engineering of plants, not for the improvement of their agronomic properties, but to make new or improved products. This development enables farmers to produce higher-value products, for food and feed, for medical and for industrial objectives, and have a high economic impact. Genetic modification of plants has raised lots of discussions on safety. This has resulted in national and international regulations on field releases and market introductions. The production and marketing of medically related products has already been encircled by requirements and regulations for a longer time.

Most commonly nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals are often mentioned in one breath. The reason is that these products have physiological activity in human and animals, and all are related to health. Nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals can be differentiated on the basis of their aim: is the product a food, or is the product a medicine. Nutraceuticals aim for the health situation of healthy individuals. Nutraceuticals add health promotion to the regular function of a food being the source of building material and energy. Pharmaceuticals are produced to cure human or animal individuals, for diagnostics these are generally available from a doctor or veterinary surgeon. Some pharmaceutical products, especially those for self-diagnostic purposes, are freely available.

A food can be made a functional food by using different approaches (FUFOSE, 1999) for eliminating a component that cause deleterious effects to the consumer like an allergenic protein, increase the amount of a natural component in food, add components which is not normally present in most foods, but for which beneficial effects have been demonstrated like non-vitamin anti-oxidants, or fructans, replace a component, usually a macronutrient, the intake of which is usually more (fats) by a component which has beneficial effects oligosaccharides, and to improve the availability and modify, food components which show beneficial effects.

Alpha carotene or beta carotene which is mostly seen in carrots, fruits, vegetables can neutralize free radicals which may cause cell damage. Lutein which is seen in all green vegetables reduces risk of macular degeneration. Lycopene seen in ketchup and sauces have the ability to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Insoluble fibre which is present in wheat bran reduces the risk of breast or colon cancer. Beta glucan and soluble fibre mostly seen in oats, barley and Psyllium protect against heart disease and some cancers, lowers LDL and total cholesterol levels. Long chain omega-3 Fatty Acids-DHA/EPA present in Salmon and other fish oils Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease Improve mental, visual functions. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) which is in Cheese, meat products improves body composition and lowers the chance of certain cancer. Anthocyanidins (Fruits), Catechins (Tea), Flavonones (Citrus), Flavones (Fruits/vegetables) they neutralize free radicals and reduce risk of cancer. Tannins (proanthocyanidines) widely seen in cranberries, cranberry products, cocoa and chocolate helps improve urinary tract health lowers risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Vitamin D plays an essential role in calcium absorption by the body and helps to build cartilage and strong bones. Low serum levels of vitamin D have been shown to increase the progression of knee OA. Deficiency of Vitamin D has been found to have adverse effects on calcium metabolism, osteoblast activity, matrix ossification and bone density. Vitamin C known as ascorbic acid and has been shown to play an essential role in biosynthesis of cartilage molecules. Vitamin C participates in the synthesis of glycosaminoglycan as well as collagen. Its deficiency can impair the production as well as the biomechanical quality of cartilage. Vitamin E Alpha-tocopherol or vitamin E is the only significant lipid-soluble, chain-breaking antioxidant present in plasma and red blood cells. The richest food sources of vitamin E are edible plant oils.

An attempt were made to develop herbal dietary supplements with high nutraceutical value from commonly available plants such as Achyranthus aspera L (Aa), Boerhavia diffusa L (Bd), Mukia madraspatana L Roem (Mm), Scoparia dulcis (Sd) and Phyllanthus madaraspatensis L (Pm) which are known for their therapeutic values. Achyranthus aspera L is used as an Immunomodulatory and antiobese drug Boerhaavia diffusa is used for treating rheumatism, cardiovascular diseases and anemia, Mukia madraspatana is used in arthritic conditions and to reduce blood Pressure, it is a proven Immunomodulatory and hepatoprotective agent, Scoparia dulcis is traditionally used in the management of hypertension and diabetes, Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is not only an antioxidant but also used as an antibacterial and hepatoprotective agent . There are a lot f plants with high quantity and quality of nutraceuticals present many study have been conducted to improve and for the extraction.

Reasons for Developing Nutraceuticals from Plants

All plant species have some unique biochemical characteristics; one never knows which species will be the basis of important scientific and technological developments. Plants have a long history of use in medicine, there is no doubt that some chemicals from some species are useful, and the search for additional useful constituents could be fruitful. Considerable research has been completed on the biochemistry of plants, and this knowledge is useful as a basis for further research and development. The most commonly used plants are very well understood in terms of their agronomy and processing characteristics. These species are easy to grow and very productive, industries and peoples have become dependent on income. Genetic engineering offers the possibility of complete inactivation of the enzymes.


Caballero B, Dietary Supplements, The Johns Hopkins University review, 2006

Kalra EK 2003, Nutraceutical - Definition and Introduction AAPS PharmSci 2003; 5 (3) Article 25

DeFelice SL. FIM. Rationale and proposed guidelines for the nutraceutical research & education act -NREA, November 10, 2002

McAlindon T.E., Nutraceuticals: do they work and when should we use them? Clin. Rheumatol. 20 (2006) 99"115.

Bernal J, et al., Advanced analysis of nutraceuticals, J.Pharm. Biomed. Anal. (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2010.11.033

About Author / Additional Info: