What Is a Nutraceutical?

Is It Different Than a Dietary Supplement?

Many products are marketed as being beneficial for arthritis and joint health. Some are dietary supplements while others are classified as functional foods (a food product consumed as part of the daily diet that may offer benefit beyond nutrition) or nutraceuticals. Unlike prescription medications, dietary supplements, functional foods, and nutraceuticals are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What is a nutraceutical? Is there any difference between a nutraceutical and a dietary supplement? A nutraceutical is a food or food component that claims to have health benefits, including treatment and prevention of disease. In 1989, Stephen DeFelice, M.D., derived the term "nutraceutical" from "nutrition" and "pharmaceutical." Basically, it's used as a marketing term.

What Is a Dietary Supplement?

Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM, are popular dietary supplements that are touted as beneficial for joint health. As defined by Congress in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which became law in 1994, a dietary supplement is a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet; contains one or more dietary ingredients (vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and other substances); is intended to be taken orally; and is labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement.

How Do Nutraceuticals Differ From Dietary Supplements?

Nutraceuticals do more than just supplement the diet. They, as was pointed out, help with disease prevention and treatment. Theoretically, the appeal of nutraceuticals has to do with accomplishing treatment goals without side effects.

Using glucosamine as an example, by promoting joint health, it would seem by definition that it is more of a nutraceutical than dietary supplement. Are we essentially splitting hairs over terminology? Apparently so. According to Arthritis Research and Therapy, "the term nutraceutical has no regulatory definition and is not recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which uses instead the term "dietary supplements." Some functional ingredients are sold as nutraceuticals in some countries but as drugs (that is, requiring medical prescription) in others."

The Merck Manual states, "The most commonly used alternative therapy is dietary supplements, which include medicinal herbs and nutraceuticals."

Bottom Line

As a consumer, here's what you need to know: In the United States, you will see reference to dietary supplements. That term is essentially interchangeable with the term nutraceutical. Always consult with your doctor before trying any dietary supplement/nutraceutical.


Osteoarthritis and nutrition. From nutraceuticals to functional foods: a systematic review of the scientific evidence. Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8:R127. Ameye LG et al.

Nutraceutical - Definition and Introduction. AAPS PharmSci. 2003; 5(2). Kalra EK et al.

Overview of Medicinal Herbs and Nutraceuticals. Merck Manual. Ara DerMarderosian, Ph.D. Accessed 02/06/2016.

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