Stephen DeFelice, MD, the chairman and founder of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, was the first person to coin the term nutraceutical in 1989. The word was thought of by taking from “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”.
He defined a nutraceutical as a part of a food, or food, that produces health or medical advantages. If a functional food helps to prevent or treat a disorder or disease, with the exception of anemia, it is referred to as a nutraceutical.
The actual term nutraceutical is used more commonly in marketing and does not have a regulatory meaning. Both pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals are billion dollar industries that are often confused with each other.
There is a simple way to tell the difference, which is that pharmaceuticals are man-made, or imitations for natural substances that help our body meet the expectations of what is healthy, provide essential ingredients to the body or defend against diseases.
Nutraceuticals can be used as conventional foods or as the single items of a meal or diet. The term nutraceuticals are often used by producers for already available, regular foods, nutrients, spices, nutritional ingredients in food, or supplements for a diet. Nutraceuticals still are in the process of being evaluated for their full benefits. One of the benefits of nutraceuticals in comparison to pharmaceuticals is that their compounds occur naturally, often avoiding some of the nastier side effects that medicine has while still being able to offer the same or similar benefits that the pills have.
Remember though, that nutraceuticals are not FDA regulated and because of that they do not have the same processes that pharmaceuticals must go through that can ensure their safety. They do not have the medical research or clinical trials to back them so they are much more limited to what they are able to state they can do. Because they are not backed by the FDA they must inform consumers that the FDA has not evaluated their products on their labels.
Some examples of nutraceuticals are:
- Phytonutrients: resveratrol
- Carotenoids: lycopene powders
- Fortified dairy products (e.g., milk) and citrus fruits (e.g., orange juice)
- Dietary enzymes: bromelain extract, papain
- Dietary fiber
- Hydrolyzed proteins
- Herbal products (examples: garlic (allicin), ginger, echinacea, ginseng, licorice, onion, turmeric (curcumin), senna)
Minerals, vitamins and other dietary supplements
Nutraceuticals are a great complement to pharmaceuticals, in particular when pharmaceutical gas contraindications. You could say that pharmaceuticals are made to fight disease, and nutraceuticals are there to add an additional layer to the preventative aspect of medicine.
The biggest difference between these two is the consumer’s opinions on how the two work. Consumers expect that with pharmaceuticals, they expect the drugs will treat/cure the issue or disease, but with nutraceuticals, they hope to prevent the disease. Also, the final benefits to nutraceuticals are their affordability, the fact they do not require a prescription, and they are much more easy to access than typical medication.