Nutraceuticals and You

Nutraceuticals have become extremely popular today, although they have been around in one form or another since the beginning of time. Coined from nutrition and pharmaceutical in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice, MD, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine (FIM) in Cranford, NJ, nutraceuticals are defined as a food (or part of a food) that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease. Also known as “functional foods,” the term “nutraceuticals” often used in marketing has no regulatory definition. Due to this fact, there is a need for consumer awareness.

Nutraceuticals are found in two forms:
1. Dietary supplements
2. Foods that may offer health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate many nutraceuticals.  Therefore, the claimed health benefits may not have any scientific evidence or clinical testing results for purity, safety, and proper dosage. This has been an ongoing debatable topic for Registered Dietitians (RDs). According to Annette Dickinson, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, health claims on nutraceuticals should be prohibited because they are comparable to a drug claim. Presently, she reported at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists’ 30th Annual meeting, health claims can be made for nutritional foods, such as the most popular, fiber. Although fiber has had scientific studies backing up its ability to help prevent heart disease and certain cancers, it’s important to know that other supplements or functional foods can have unwanted side effects. For example, many herbal teas and vitamins should be avoided during pregnancy. (Please see accompanying chart, Drug and Herb Interactions.)

Nutraceuticals can be attractive for many reasons. They are readily accessible for the consumer perhaps traditional treatments have failed, or commonly-used medications may cause side effects. Whatever the reason for using nutraceuticals, it is important to discuss their use with your healthcare provider. Ask the following questions:

• What are my options?
• Is this the best complementary/alternative therapy for my condition?
• Will the nutraceuticals I’ve chosen to take or eat affect any of the other medications or vitamins I have been taking? (Be sure to bring along a list of everything that you are taking to the meeting.)

If you feel that your health care provider is not knowledgeable on the topic of nutraceuticals as complementary/alternative therapy, seek a second opinion.

Drug and Herb Interactions

If you take this With this May lead to this
Insulin Ginseng Low blood sugar levels
Aspirin Ginkgo Increased bleeding &; risk
of hemorrhage
Furosimide (Lasix) or natural licorice Aloe Lowered potassium levels
Hormone therapy or oral contraceptives St. John’s wort Drugs’ decreased effectiveness
Metformin (Glucophage) or Glyburide (Diabeta) Ginseng Low blood sugar levels

Registered dietitians (RDs) also have extensive training in foods and nutrition and most have experience to make appropriate recommendations. Nutraceuticals may be a viable complementary/alternative therapy for you, but you must be armed with the facts before adding them to your health regime.

Karla D. Boyce, RD, LDN, CDE

References:
•  “The Female Patient: What you should know about nutraceuticals,” 7/06
Women’s 4/19/05 “Food, drug and herb interactions,”
Medline “Nutraceuticals-Food and Drugs,” www.medscape.com/viewarticle/424920. 1999
• American Dietetic Association: Functional Foods.
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