Nutraceuticals, a natural aid for the health of the elderly.
Food supplements of plant origin are consolidated and have diversified. In this article we explain what they are, how they work and why they are useful at certain ages.
From vitamins to Omega 3, and from the drugstore to the supermarket. Food supplements are already part of the daily habits of many consumers in developed countries. Its consolidation has outdate the term alternative and a specific vocabulary has raised to define the different types of supplements available in the market. Among them, the nutraceuticals, the word that unites the concepts of nutrition and pharmaceutical.
But do we really know what they are? Do we know how to distinguish them within the range of supplements? In the following sections we give the answer and we point out its importance in certain segments of the population such as the elderly and in the affections of the cardiovascular system.
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What are nutraceuticals.
The term appeared at the end of the 80s in the United States, within the scope of The Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, to refer to those products of oral intake, plant origin and without form of food whose objective is to provide a beneficial effect to the organism and contribute to the physical well-being of people.
Therefore, it is not a medicine intended to cure a specific ailment. In this sense, the pharmaceutical concept is not related to its true nature, although nutraceuticals must follow scientific controls and criteria similar to those of medicines.
Nutraceuticals are part of the food supplements (also known as dietary supplements), being able to grant the latter the same definition as the former, but with the particularity that a supplement may include synthetic substances approved for the purpose to which it goes addressed. Nutraceuticals, however, are exclusively of natural origin, the vegetable kingdom being the usual source of ingredients.
They come in the form of tablets, capsules, vials or granular solutions to be dissolved in liquids. And they are formed by the active components of the source from which they come. For example, those substances that are part of a plant and exert a healthy function in the human organism.
Usual ingredients are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, polyphenols, enzymes, etc., which are usually incorporated into the nutraceutical formula through extracts, formulas that concentrate one or several components of the plant. For example, polyphenols and tannins from Grape Extract or flavonoids from Citrus Extracts.
Functions they perform.
As we have already said, nutraceuticals have beneficial effects but they are not a medicine, therefore, their range of action is between:
» To prevent or alleviate common and serious diseases.
» To delay the signs of biological aging.
» To stop or reduce the negative impact of some external factors (solar radiation, pollution, tobacco, etc.).
» To improve life quality.
The explanation of these effects and, consequently, the effectiveness of the nutraceuticals is logical if we take into account that these actions are those of the active ingredients that comprise the supplement.
For example, Hydroxytyrosol present in the olive tree is one of the major antioxidant agents of the plant kingdom, with a great capacity to fight free radicals that attack any organism, having been scientifically recognized its effect against LDL particles (better known as bad cholesterol). Therefore, nutraceutical that include Hydroxytyrosol Extract can help combat cardiovascular problems caused by the action of free radicals.
The revolution of nutraceuticals.
The increase of nutraceuticals in the market goes hand in hand with efforts to improve and extend the lives of people in developed countries. Thus, the higher the level of well-being and life expectancy, the greater the presence of food supplements on the shelves. Only in the United States, there are an estimated 170 million consumers and a turnover of around 41 billion dollars according to the Nutritional Outlook portal.
Growth is observed in all angles. The offer is growing and more specific in terms of product type. The multivitamin complexes of two decades ago have given way to probiotics, antioxidants, minerals and collagen, among others.
Its access is not limited only to the herbalists. Today we can find them on the supermarket shelves, in gyms, drugstores (without a medical prescription) and, above all, on the Internet since the consumer profile has also changed. Segments of the population that previously could not be so interested, such as the youth or middle-aged men, are increasingly concerned about their health and are proactive when it comes to finding information on the Internet, which brings together to companies, online stores and user communities.
This in turn helps the nutraceutical companies to investigate new products, adapt to the needs or interests of customers – through clean labels, organic products, allergen-free products, etc. – and follow greater quality controls.
The elderly, the natural audience.
The segment of the elderly population – starting from the retirement age habitually – is one of the groups of consumers most interested in nutraceuticals. And not only because today they continue to be active beyond the workplace and are informed through digital media, but also by the characteristics of the organism.
At this age, the body begins to have difficulty absorbing and processing certain nutrients, which can be aggravated by the effects of certain medications. On the other hand, the rhythm of metabolism and appetite itself is reduced, so that food intake is usually lower, causing a lower intake of nutrients.
The consequences of this case usually lead to deficiencies of vitamins or calcium, which is associated with diseases such as osteoporosis. Other age-related conditions are macular degeneration – the cause of vision loss – and heart attacks due to the biological aging of the arteries – arteriosclerosis – or the narrowing produced by fatty plaques such as cholesterol – atherosclerosis.
Nutraceuticals, great allies against hypertension.
Another cause associated with coronary insufficiency is high blood pressure: when the blood presses excessively on the arteries of the heart. This disease is also common in older people, although, as we explained in this article, the causes are still unknown.
What has been already proven is the positive effect exerted by some substances against this dysfunction. Specifically, oleanolic acid and especially oleuropein, a polyphenol from the olive tree that reaches its greatest presence in the leaf of the plant.
Numerous in vitro and in vivo scientific studies show why olive leaf infusions are one of the most popular remedies against hypertension: their antioxidant action, which is effective in mild and moderate cases and when administered through an extract , since the concentration of oleuropein is higher.
Olive leaf extracts are also indicated for other common diseases of the elderly such as urinary tract infections, colds and the flu.
Just a complement.
The best recipe to contribute to the health of the body, at any age, goes through a mixture of basic ingredients: exercise regularly, avoid alcohol and cigars, control salt, stress and weight, and maintain a balanced diet, rich in antioxidants. Supplements are an extra aid, although they can be very useful in the absence of nutrients. In any case, and although they can be acquired without medical prescription, health experts are the most appropriate to point out the most suitable product for each person.
- Raederstorff, D., Antioxidant activity of olive polyphenols in humans: a review. Int. J. Vitam Nutr. Res. 2009, 79, 152– 165.
- Lipoproteínas de baja densidad oixdadas. Rev Electron Biomed / Electron J Biomed 2008;3:52-60.- Calmarza, P.
- N El, S., Karakaya, S. 2009. Olive tree (Olea europaea) leaves: potencial .
- Perrinjaquet-Moccetti, T., Busjahn, A., Schmidlin, C., Schmidt, A.,Bradl, B., Aydogan, C. 2008. Food supplementation with an olive (Olea europaea L.) leaf extract reduces blood pressure in borderline hypertensive monozygotic twins. Phytotherapy Research, 22:1239-1242.