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Is Nutraceuticals A Smart Choice For A Healthier Tomorrow?

General well-being and preventive healthcare have long been associated with health enthusiasts and the elderly until the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic brought about a generational reset forcing people to view personal health from a fresh perspective.

This reset has shifted the focus from curative healthcare to preventive health practices and products. One such category of pre-emptive health products that have been seeing extensive use since the onset of the pandemic is nutraceuticals. This class of health products has evoked interest worldwide and the Asia Pacific region has registered the fastest growth.

What are Nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals are the class of consumable products derived from food sources that offer high nutritional value, often for specific health benefits. They are usually categorised under non-specific therapies used to promote general health and well-being. Nutraceuticals are derived from natural substances like herbs, vitamins, minerals and other substances like dietary fibre, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA), prebiotics and even spices that are known to boost immunity in humans. They are marketed in various consumable forms, such as pills/capsules, chewable gummies and water-soluble powders. Nutraceuticals are not limited to oral consumption, and they can have dermal and ophthalmic use as well.

The term "nutraceutical" is a conjunction of the words, "nutrient" and "pharmaceutical." The term was coined in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice, who is the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, New Jersey (US). Nutraceutical products lie between dietary supplements and drugs. The major focus of this class of healthcare products has been the prevention of health problems by providing the right kind of nutrition to the body. The nutraceuticals market has grown alongside modern technology.

The concept of using foods high in nutritional value for improving bodily strength and wellbeing is not new. Alternative branches of medicine like Ayurveda, Naturopathy and Unani have long been using dietary nutrition for tackling both seasonal and chronic illnesses and for boosting general health as well. With more research being done on alternative healthcare practices in the last few decades, the role of dietary nutrition in both mental and physical health has gained greater focus.

Studies like this paper published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine reported promising results in treating allergies, diabetes, eyes, inflammation, obesity and other health complications with nutraceuticals and boosting immunity. Given their potential preventive and therapeutic effects, nutraceuticals have gained sizeable traction in the health markets across the world.

The Nutraceutical Market

The growth of the global nutraceutical market since the onset of the pandemic is expected to continue as more and more people are realising the benefits of preventive healthcare. As per a market report, the Indian nutraceutical industry was expected to reach INR 650 billion in 2022 from INR 260 billion in 2017. The plant-based nutraceuticals segment in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15 per cent between 2022-27 driven by the increasing demand for healthy and functional foods.

In India, nutraceuticals are expected to get more attention from young professionals (especially millennials), health and fitness enthusiasts, sportspersons/athletes and the immunocompromised. With 61 per cent of the world's millennials, Asia is already a force to reckon with in the nutraceutical market. India, with nearly 400 million millennials, is expected to register significant growth as well.

Unlike pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals are not known to contain artificial substances or chemicals and are thus deemed to have minimal or zero side-effects. They contain antioxidants, probiotics and PUFA, which can help in managing health issues like diabetes, cholesterol, arthritis, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Apart from the general health benefits, nutraceuticals can be used in combined formulations with multiple benefits.

These days, a new segment of nutraceuticals is gaining popularity among both young and older consumers. This subset of nutraceuticals includes consumable/drinkable beauty enhancers that come with anti-ageing properties to boost collagen and improve hair, skin, nails and eyes. It is a great time for nutraceuticals to enter the beauty market since more and more people are realising that traditional beauty products only work on the surface and that great skin and hair are a result of healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet. In a market like India where food-based home remedies have long been used for improving beauty and health, beauty-enhancing nutraceuticals could find more takers than anywhere else and experience dynamic growth.

Despite the host of benefits and apparent lack of side effects, the nutraceuticals market does have issues like untested, counterfeit products that may claim to provide benefits without any proper research trials and data. Many nutraceuticals may not even be as healthy as they claim. Popular health-improvement gummies sold in the name of nutraceuticals often contain significant amounts of sugar and gelatine that many consumers would rather avoid.

The Future of Nutraceuticals

The number of health-conscious consumers is on a consistent rise and so is the demand for functional foods with therapeutic and augmentative effects on health. With such trends in motion, the nutraceutical market has great prospects worldwide.

Meanwhile, the Indian nutraceutical industry, although promising, must address its existing issues. Regulators and market leaders must bring in more stringent and well-defined policies around the product segment. Consumer education will also remain an integral part of the industry's trajectory. It would be interesting to see how the nutraceutical industry evolves in the post-pandemic period.

(This article is contributed by Lavanya Sunkari, Founder and CEO, Laurik, one of its kind enhanced Coconut health nutrition brands.)

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