Medical foods

Therapies for the dietary management of chronic disease with specific nutritional needs1

Medical foods target and meet specific nutritional needs in chronic diseases that cannot be met with diet alone. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, the brain becomes less able to use glucose (a type of sugar) to produce energy, and this deficiency in glucose metabolism cannot be addressed by eating regular foods or diet modification alone.

Medical foods can be thought of as products that are between a prescription drug and a dietary supplement or nutraceutical. Medical foods are derived from food products, but are specially formulated to address the nutritional deficiencies for metabolic imbalances for a specific disease. The ingredients are either foods, approved food additives, or dietary ingredients that are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must comply with general food safety and manufacturing standards and regulations. Medical foods are different than dietary supplements primarily because they are intended for people with chronic diseases, rather than healthy people.

Medical foods must be used under medical supervision because they are used in chronic conditions and are often prescribed along with drug therapies. The companies that produce medical foods may also make them available by prescription only to ensure patients achieve the best possible outcome from therapy, and because by law they must be administered under medical supervision.

For more information on medical foods, visit the FDA website.

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