These are times that call for a convergence of food and pharmaceuticals

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on August 17, 2019

Nutrition experts stress the goodness of ‘food as medicine’

As consumers increasingly reach out for supplements, functional foods and nutraceuticals in their pursuit of staying well, the dependence on drugs seems to be reducing. But there is space for these products to co-exist with modern medicine, say experts, as they distil traditional knowledge to develop an alternative pathway in healthcare.

Exploring the evolution from traditional foods to nutraceuticals is a book edited by Dr DBA Narayana and Dr V Prakash titled Beginning of the journey of Herbaceuticals and Nutraceuticals.” A regulatory expert, Dr Narayana explains that the concept of anna-aushadi (food as medicine ) was integral to the Indian psyche well before Western science said, “let food be thy medicine”.

India’s ancient wisdom

“India and China are the only two countries that have documentary evidence of their traditional medicines,” he says, pointing to the wealth of information that sits in these texts waiting to be tapped for consumer wellness.

In India, nutraceuticals are regulated under the Food Safety and Standards Act. And as consumer consciousness of these products increases, so does the scrutiny of their efficacy and quality, says Narayana. The book seeks to address key areas across food science, herbaceuticals and regulations through the writings of different experts.

To illustrate how one product could lock in multiple health benefits, Narayana points to fenugreek or methi seeds that can be taken as a spoonful with water on an empty stomach to address lipid profile concerns. Taken with curd, it stops diarrhoea. And if roasted a little, powdered and taken twice a day, it can help people with diabetes, he says, adding that there are published studies on this and other such traditional information.

A chapter co-authored by Narayana looks at “describing, deciphering and defending” label claims. Pointing out that claims have more significance than just the mention of therapeutic benefits, he says everything mentioned on a label is a claim. “Whether something was procured from an orchard or the product was triple-refined, it was richer that something else, etc, — all of them are claims,” he says.

About 60 per cent of pharmaceutical ingredients have their origin in herbs or natural material, says Narayana. There is space for traditional medicines, supplements and nutraceuticals to co-exist with modern medicine, he says, addressing the general distrust that remains between them.

A similar theme anchors the book Pharmaceuticals to Nutraceuticals: A shift in disease prevention, by Dilip Ghosh and RB Smarta.

“We believe that there is a convergence between food and pharma. Chronic diseases need more than just traditional pharmaceuticals approach. Our food and nutrition expertise can help create a new industry where nutrition plays a bigger role in helping people who live with difficult chronic medical conditions,” says Smarta.

The global nutraceutical market is pegged at $400 billion and every other multinational company has a nutraceutical wing, says Smarta. “With the ageing population, getting people healthy at the later stage of life is difficult and expensive. Healthcare is going to be in real trouble if we do not start to look at it in a different way,” says Smarta, as the book explores functional foods, looks at scientific evidence on efficacy, discusses combination therapies between pharmaceuticals and food bioactives in disease prevention and treatment, among other things.

Published on August 17, 2019

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