As a functional allergist, Dr. Z is always looking beyond the symptom to find the cause of illness. And over and over, he finds that what we put into our bodies matters a lot. “We have to understand the role of our internal environment at the cellular level of the gut,” he explains. This means understanding that food really is medicine.
The concept of “food is medicine”
The idea that certain foods can have a potentially positive effect on health beyond providing basic nutrition has led to a whole industry known as nutraceuticals. The term “nutraceutical” combines the words “nutrient” (a nourishing food component) and “pharmaceutical” (a medical drug).
Nutraceuticals focus on promoting wellness, controlling symptoms, and preventing disease, which are the core principles of functional medicine. “Like exercise, the food you eat plays a major role in your health,” says Dr. Z. “It doesn’t just give us energy, it builds us up.”
Types of nutraceuticals
Based on their natural source and chemical makeup, researchers have grouped nutraceuticals into the following categories:
- Dietary supplements – a product that contains nutrients derived from food products that can come in the form of a concentrated liquid, capsule, powder, or pill; The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the claims that manufacturers can make about dietary supplements’ contents and effects on disease, health, and bodily functions.
- Functional foods – includes whole foods and fortified, enriched, or enhanced dietary components that may reduce the risk of chronic disease and provide health benefits beyond the traditional nutrients it contains; a common example is orange juice fortified with calcium for bone health.
- Medical foods – intended for managing a specific disease or condition, this category is formulated to be consumed or administered under the supervision of a physician.
- Farmaceuticals – medically valuable components produced from modified agricultural crops or animals; the term combines the words “farm” and “pharmaceuticals.”
What are the potential health benefits?
Since the term nutraceutical was first coined in 1989, researchers and consumers have become very interested in the potential nutritional, safety, and therapeutic benefits. Dr. Z’s own journey through traditional and functional medicine has reinforced the understanding that it all comes back to food as medicine: “As I expand my knowledge, learning how antioxidants and other innovative treatments can help mitigate inflammation, allergies, and autoimmune disease, it has become even more clear to me that diet is more than just providing calories—proper nutrition assists growth, supports immune function, spurs healing, and aids disease prevention.”
We know that navigating the world of nutrition and dietary supplements can be overwhelming. We’re here to answer any questions and help you get on a path to better health. Schedule an initial consultation today.