What Are Nutraceuticals?

The term “nutraceutical” was coined from “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical” in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice, MD, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine (FIM), Cranford, NJ.1 According to DeFelice, nutraceutical can be defined as, “a food (or part of a food) that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease.”1 However, the term nutraceutical as commonly used in marketing has no regulatory definition.2

When food is being cooked or prepared using “scientific intelligence” with or without knowledge of how or why it is being used, the food is called “functional food.” Thus, functional food provides the body with the required amount of vitamins, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, etc, needed for its healthy survival. When functional food aids in the prevention and/or treatment of disease(s) and/or disorder(s) other than anemia, it is called a nutraceutical. (Since most of the functional foods act in some way or the other as antianemic, the exception to anemia is considered so as to have a clear distinction between the two terms, functional food and nutraceutical.) Thus, a functional food for one consumer can act as a nutraceutical for another consumer. Examples of nutraceuticals include fortified dairy products (eg, milk) and citrus fruits (eg, orange juice).

The DSHEA formally defined “dietary supplement” using several criteria. A dietary supplement3:

 Is a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total daily intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combinations of these ingredients.

Is intended for ingestion in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form.

 Is not represented for use as a conventional food or as the sole item of a meal or diet.

 Is labeled as a “dietary supplement.”

Includes products such as an approved new drug, certified antibiotic, or licensed biologic that was marketed as a dietary supplement or food before approval, certification, or license (unless the Secretary of Health and Human Services waives this provision).

Thus, nutraceuticals (as per the proposed definition) differ from dietary supplements in the following aspects:

 

Nutraceuticals must not only supplement the diet but should also aid in the prevention and/or treatment of disease and/or disorder.

Nutraceuticals are represented for use as a conventional food or as the sole item of meal or diet.

A ray of “cure preference” in the mind of common patients revolves around nutraceuticals because of their false perception that “all natural medicines are good.” Also, the high cost of prescription pharmaceuticals and reluctance of some insurance companies to cover the costs of drugs helps nutraceuticals solidify their presence in the global market of therapies and therapeutic agents.

The use of nutraceuticals, as an attempt to accomplish desirable therapeutic outcomes with reduced side effects, as compared with other therapeutic agents has met with great monetary success.