Nutraceutics - Why Take Pills
~ February 1997 No.3 ~
The terms functional food, and nutraceutic, are often used interchangeably, but as we are trying to emphasize in medicinal food news nutraceutics are in fact a part of the larger functional food sector. The term nutraceutic has gained wide usage because it “sounds” good. You combine nutrient or nutritional and pharmaceutic and you get a term that describes foods or components of foods that appear to have drug-like action. However, the term nutraceutic more properly is applied to foods or food components that have been processed and / or concentrated into a pill, capsule or powder form. Garlic may be termed a functional food because of its reported benefits on blood cholesterol levels. Garlic pills are nutracteutics because they are being consumed in a pill form.It sounds confusing, because it is. Many people don’t see the difference and maybe it isn’t that obvious with garlic example. A vitamin E, capsule is very different from the vegetable oil it was extracted from, both in actual form it is consumed and in concentration. The vitamin E capsule should be termed a nutraceutic.
There are two sides to the nutraceutic debate. The one side argues that if a particular food or nutrient is good for you then all you have to do is eat more of that particular food to get the benefits. By eating the whole food and not just a particular component you get the benefit of what ever else is in that food at the same time. The side supporting nutraceutics points out that the benefits of many nutrients and food components only appear to be evident at high intake levels. You can’t expect anyone to consume kilograms of a vegetable each and every day. Consuming a pill or capsule high in a vitamin or mineral may be the only way to increase daily intake.
Health regulatory officials become concerned when the word drug, is used to describe any product that is being consumed. To qualify as a drug, the product has to have a proven ability to alter or enhance metabolism or prevent or reduce disease or infection or the agents that cause disease or infection. The pharmaceutical industry produces such products. But before they can market a drug there is a very strict system of proof that has to be satisfied. In most countries, health regulatory agencies are sticking to this burden of proof weather it applies to a traditional drug or to a food that has reported benefits to health in order to protect the consumer from fraudulent and dangerous product claims.