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Are trendy nutraceuticals actually effective or dangerous?

Generations ago, many medical maladies were treated using natural methods. As technology and medical knowledge improved, pharmaceuticals were invented and refined, and some of those natural methods became clinically-proven medications.

But now it seems that many people are looking to go back to more natural remedies for their medical issues, creating a growing demand for “nutraceuticals.” The term is a broad category that lives in a grey area between food and pharmaceuticals, describing foods that possess a medicinal benefit. The products are thought to provide medical and health benefits “beyond the diet, but before the drugs.”

Now, a review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology analyzes the potential of nutraceuticals, and stresses the need for a proper definition of nutraceuticals and necessary regulations to ensure their safety. The researchers state in their review that nutraceuticals with proven efficacy and health benefits proven by clinical data could be powerful tools to treat and prevent some medical conditions, especially for patients that are not yet eligible for some conventional pharmaceutical drugs.

Getting to this point would require a proper definition of nutraceuticals, clinical studies on their safety and efficacy, and standardized regulations for their use.

According to the authors, nutraceuticals also require a specific classification separate from food supplements and pharmaceuticals. They propose the following definition for nutraceuticals: “the phytocomplex of a vegetable or the pool of secondary metabolites from an animal. Both are concentrated and administered in a pharmaceutical form and are capable of providing beneficial health effects, including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease.”

The growing demand for nutraceuticals makes a need for more efficient classification more necessary than ever.

“We propose a regulatory system that is similar to the one used for drugs, which is more rigorous and more complex than the one commonly accepted for food supplements,” says Dr. Ettore Novellino of the University of Napoli Federico II in Italy, an author on the study. “It is important for consumer protection that national authorities and regulatory agencies require manufacturers to provide data to support any claim in the labels of products when the term nutraceutical is used.”

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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