Nutraceuticals is a term used for supplements that act as an alternative to pharmaceutical medicines. A nutraceutical or “bioceutical” claims to have some physiological benefit, and exist in the same category as dietary supplements and food additives, according to the FDA. The term was coined in 1989 by combining the words “nutrient,” which is a nourishing food component, and “pharmaceutical,” referring to a medical drug. It is an umbrella term used to describe any product derived from food sources that provide additional health benefits.

Pharmaceuticals are compounds manufactured for use as a medicinal drug, with the aim to cure, vaccinate or alleviate symptoms of a disease. While pharmaceuticals are highly regulated by the FDA, nutraceuticals are largely unregulated. Regulation is much easier with pharmaceuticals since there are scientific studies that back up the claims that these drugs make. With nutraceuticals, it is slightly more complicated. Any food item that provides some kind of benefit to your body apart from being nutritious, can be labeled as a nutraceutical. Very often we just think of nutraceuticals as being dietary supplements.

However, apart from including dietary supplements, the term nutraceuticals also refer to fortified foods, which can be any food item that has been enriched during processing to provide a benefit to its end consumer. An example would be milk fortified with Vitamin D. The terminology can therefore be slightly confusing, on top of which it is also used differently in different countries. For all intents and purposes, products in the private label supplement industry can all be viewed as nutraceuticals.

The Role of Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals are replacing a lot of prescription and over-the-counter medicines by working mostly at preventing diseases and ailments. A global market research report predicted that the nutraceutical industry will be valued at $80 million in 2019. This market was defined as including dietary supplements, functional foods and beverages. The terms nutraceutical and bioceutical are not defined by US law. Depending on the ingredients it contains, they are usually classified as drugs, dietary supplements, food ingredients or food.

Nutraceuticals are an important part of the private label supplement industry. Most developed countries have a wide range of trusted nutraceutical brands. It is a great way to improve your health and prevent illnesses, and is accessible to a wide audience, since it doesn’t carry the high price tag of pharmaceutical drugs. 

Because nutraceuticals are mostly natural products that we are surrounded with on a daily basis, there are often very few side effects when using these products for medicinal purposes. We might change certain aspects of it, manufacturing extracts and higher concentrations to get the most benefit from these products, but essentially nutraceuticals have not been modified chemically, even when it has been processed. The risk of serious side effects is therefore low, and for this reason many consumers turn to nutraceuticals as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.

Many consumers are trying to minimize their exposure to pharmaceutical drugs and manage health issues by using natural remedies. It is popular to use nutraceuticals to treat chronic illnesses, which means that long-term use is required. Usually these supplements focus on preventing various ailments. Pharmaceuticals are then often used in conjunction to treat the symptoms of a disease when it is at its worst.

While pharmaceuticals are often prescribed by medical professionals and have exact dosages, nutraceuticals don’t always have exact dosage instructions. Medical professionals are however required to stay informed about nutraceuticals and can advise you on dosages and frequency. However, due to the lack of scientific involvement when producing these substances, manufacturers and also doctors lack the authority to make claims regarding its health benefits.

Regulations, Claims, and Marketing Language

Due to the lack of research studies backed by scientific findings, and very few patents, nutraceuticals are hard to regulate. For this reason, the claims that these products are allowed to make are heavily restricted, and at most they can claim to aid in treating medical conditions. However, a nutraceutical can never claim to be a medicine.

Pharmaceuticals are backed by research justifying their claims. Because nutraceuticals lack the required research under the rules and regulations of the FDA, products cannot claim to be a medication, cure or treatment for a disease. All nutraceutical products must state on their labels that they are not FDA approved or evaluated.

The terminology also varies depending on country. Under Canadian law, nutraceuticals can either be marketed as a food or a drug. In Canada the terms “nutraceutical” and “functional food” are interchangeable. Functional food was defined in a policy paper in the Canadian Health journal as “a product isolated or purified from foods that is generally sold in medicinal forms not usually associated with food, and demonstrated to have a physiological benefit, or provide protections against a chronic disease.”

In the private label supplement market, sellers should steer clear of making health claims on their product packaging, and carefully review the language they use. Also ensure that you have the appropriate FDA required statements on the label. Despite an inability to market these products to their full potential, consumers are well aware of the benefits, and the industry is still growing exponentially.