What is a Nutraceutical?

NutraceuticalJacquieIconBy Jacquie Eubanks

The term “nutraceutical” was coined in 1989 by Dr. Stephen L. DeFelice, founder and chairman of the Foundation of Innovation Medicine, a non-profit established to accelerate medical discovery by creating a more productive clinical research community. Essentially, nutraceutical is an amalgamation of the terms “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical.” According to Dr. DeFelice, a graduate of Temple University, former chief of clinical pharmacology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and a member of the Harvard School of Public Health’s International faculty, he coined the term while strolling through the Piazza Navona in Rome late one night in the early 1980’s.

By definition, a nutraceutical differs from a dietary supplement. A supplement is defined in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act as a product that is intended to supplement the diet. It may contain one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, or other substances that are intended to be taken orally. A nutraceutical, on the other hand, is a food or a food component, typically botanicals or herbs, that in addition to its basic nutritional value may provide medical, health or physiological benefits, including prevention and treatment of disease. Theoretically, the goal of a nutraceutical is to promote general wellbeing and homeostasis, control symptoms or prevent or treat disease without the side effects that may occur with pharmaceuticals.

Currently the term nutraceutical has no regulatory definition nor is it recognized by the FDA, which terms them as dietary supplements or food ingredients. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the interest in nutraceuticals is growing rapidly as Americans focus on preventative medicine and increasingly recognize the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle for overall wellness. As consumers seek to support healthy aging, prevent chronic illnesses and avoid the side effects of long term medications, many are looking to functional foods and natural plant-based remedies to delay the aging process, increase life expectancy, support bodily functions or improve the quality of life. FDA restrictions allow marketing of supplements to support the structure or function of the body only and do not allow any unproven claims of diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of disease.

Video Nutraceutical

Dr. DeFelice continues to advocate for clinical studies to assess how nutrients affect molecular processes, gene expression and health. Funding for studies remains relatively small, although a growing number of universities, in partnership with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, are continuing to test the biological activity of nutraceuticals. In order to make true health claims, nutrigenomics (the scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes, especially with regard to prevention or treatment of disease), faces the same challenges encountered in drug development. Current permissible health claims include:

  • Support of cartilage and joint functions
  • Maintenance of cholesterol levels already within the normal range
  • Maintenance of healthy lung function
  • Relief of tension and stress
  • A more focused, less distracted mind

It’s important to note that there are many “qualified” permissible health claims. Qualified health claims authorized by the FDA must be supported by credible scientific evidence regarding a relationship between a nutraceutical and a disease or health-related condition. Some of these “may” include:

  • Calcium and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Fiber-containing products and reduced cancer risk
  • Folic acid and reduced risk of neural tube defects
  • Sterols/stanols and reduced risk of coronary heart disease
  • Potassium and reduced risk high blood pressure and stroke
  • Antioxidants and reduced cancer risk
  • Essential fatty acids and reduced risks of heart disease and cancer
  • Chromium picolinate and insulin resistance
  • Phosphatidylserine and cognitive dysfunction and dementia
  • B vitamins and reduced risk of vascular disease
  • Whole foods and grains and reduced risk of coronary heart disease and certain cancers

The NIH reports that 6 out of 10 Americans take some type of food supplement and 30 – 40% take herbal supplements. It concludes that supplementation is being driven by a disappointment with Western medicine and a strong interest in improving health and wellbeing. Again as reported by the NIH, “A 2001 poll by Harris Interactive (Rochester, NY, USA) revealed that 72% of those surveyed in the USA take supplements to feel better, 67% to prevent illness, 50% to live longer, 37% to build muscle and strength, 12% for weight management and 33% on the advice of a physician. Significantly, 53% said that nutraceuticals offer benefits not matched by conventional drugs, and 56% said they offered benefits comparable with drugs but with fewer side effects. Remarkably, 95% were satisfied with supplements.” Remarkably? Perhaps not.  

The following products from Ortho Molecular are designed to support specific health concerns:

Triplichol with NiacinTriplichol w/ Niacin – Developed using the most widely studied natural agents that support optimal cardiovascular health, this product contains cardio-protective synergistic ingredients such as DHA, plant sterols, flavonoids, antioxidants and time-release niacin.   Gluten free.


UT Response PackUT Response Pack – This proactive system is designed to provide immediate support for acute urinary tract challenges and to provide nutritional support to reestablish and sustain long-term urinary tract health. Contains specific natural and herbal ingredients such as berberine, bladderwrack and uva ursi leaf extract. Gluten free.

Mitocore (Formerly K PAX Pro)Mitocore – Scientifically formulated with key mitochondrial nutrients and phytonutrients to support immune function, increase antioxidant protection, and boost cellular energy production and mitochondrial reserves. Gluten free.


Glycemic Foundation Chocolate FlavorGlycemic Foundation – This unique formula contains a blend of powdered, beneficial ingredients that aid in supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Mixes easily with beverage of choice. Available in Chocolate and Vanilla flavored formulas. Provides 10 g of whole grain brown rice protein per serving. Gluten free.  

Nutraceuticals and botanicals: overview and perspectives. 
What are Nutraceuticals?
A nutraceutical a day may keep the doctor away.
Debasis Bagchi, Nutraceutical and Functional Food Regulations in the United States and Around the World. Burlington: Elsevier Science, 2014.

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