Purpose of review
To review pharmaceutical and pharmacological issues relating to the benefits and risks associated with the use of naturally sourced nutraceuticals when administered singly or in combinations.
The application of vegetable extracts or dietary supplementation with selenium or antioxidant vitamins results in positive benefits on immunity and other phenomena associated with chronic diseases, ageing and cancer. However, there appear to be no cardiovascular benefits from vitamin mixtures, which may in fact cause harm. Therefore, although recent publications have increased our understanding of the metabolic actions of nutraceuticals, learning to use them to the best advantage is going to require products with uniform and consistent quality. Unfortunately, a single purified substance will not always have the same antioxidant activity, nor provide the same clinical benefits as nutraceutical mixtures and combinations occurring in natural extracts. In order to perform first-class clinical studies to determine safety and efficacy, the stability, compatibility and other pharmaceutical variables inherent in many of these combination products will have to be better controlled.
Nutraceuticals have potent biological actions. Their use is increasing dramatically, and there is growing evidence of clinical benefits. No medicinal products are completely safe so their risks need to be characterized and controlled. Imposing pharmaceutical levels of control and regulation would increase costs and reduce patient access to new products, but the evidence is compelling that closer monitoring of raw materials, processing and formulation will be required to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks.