Not a Drug, a Medical Food

On a Facebook Chronic Kidney Disease support page, I mentioned that I use a medical food to help with my osteoarthritis. And then the questions started flying. Those of us who would prefer no more Rx drugs seemed the most interested. I already take Rx drugs for both hyperlipidemia and hypertension. I didn’t want to add yet another Rx drug that may have side effects. This is a lot safer for my poor little kidneys.

Let’s start at the beginning with a definition. According to the Free Dictionary’s Medical Dictionary at http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Medical+food, a medical food is:
A food formulated by the selective use of nutrients and manufactured for the dietary treatment of a specific condition or disease

I am not referring to dietary supplements here, but rather a replacement for a drug that can be prescribed for a specific disease. In my case, it’s osteoarthritis. CoverMyMedicalFoods.com explains that:

Medical foods are prescription medicines made from natural molecules found in food.

One pill can equal natural ingredients found in five pounds of fruits and vegetables.

Purified, natural ingredients equal fewer side effects.

Large amounts of these purified molecules help the body fight disease.

Unlike dietary supplements or Rx drugs, the ingredients are designated G.R.A.S. “Generally Recognized as Safe,” which is the highest standard of safety at the FDA.

Also unlike dietary supplements or Rx drugs, medical foods are intended for a disease or condition that has distinctive nutritional requirements.

Like Rx drugs, but unlike dietary supplements, they must be supervised by a physician and dispensed by prescription. (My rheumatologist performs this task for me.)

Pharmacist Gayle Nicholas Scott explains The Federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rules for medical foods on Medscape at https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/744036.

The FDA specifies that medical foods are foods specifically formulated for dietary management of diseases or conditions with distinctive nutritional needs that cannot be met by diet alone. Generally, a product must meet the following criteria to be labeled a “medical food”:
• A specific formulation (as opposed to a naturally occurring foodstuff in its natural state) for oral or tube feeding;
• Labeled for the dietary management of a specific medical disorder, disease, or condition with distinctive nutritional requirements;
• Intended for use under medical supervision; and
• Intended only for a patient receiving active and ongoing medical supervision for a condition requiring medical care on a recurring basis so that instructions on the use of the medical food can be provided.

This is all getting a bit technical so I decided to go to my medical food’s website for an example. I take Limbrel. This is from their website (as mentioned) at http://www.limbrel.com/hcp-medical-food.php.

Limbrel is a prescription medical food product for the daily nutritional management of the metabolic aspects of osteoarthritis. Limbrel is not a drug, nor a dietary supplement. Because Limbrel is a Medical Food (MF) product, we are required to describe it differently from how a drug or dietary supplement is described.

By statutory and regulatory definition, product claims must be explicitly different for medical food products versus drugs versus dietary supplements. Generally, Medical Food claims reference the “dietary management” or “distinctive nutritional requirements” of a particular disease or the metabolic processes of that disease, whereas drug claims reference “curing, treating, preventing or mitigating” the effects or symptoms of a particular disease, while dietary supplement claims reference “supporting” healthy function of the body or particular body organ or system.

First, osteoarthritis patients are shown to have distinctive nutritional requirements and metabolic imbalances. Then, for example, a Medical Food may claim the dietary management of metabolic processes of osteoarthritis, whereas a drug may claim the reduction of osteoarthritis pain, while a dietary supplement may claim the support of overall health of joints. A Medical Food must meet the distinctive nutritional requirements of a disease through dietary management, whereas a drug may address the symptoms of a disease or its treatment or prevention of the disease.

Claims for both MFs and drugs must be supported by solid laboratory and clinical data. But, by contrast, for a drug, the safety of the product and both the therapeutic claims and the ingredients must be pre-approved by the FDA through extensive clinical testing. MFs have up-front safety obtained through GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status of the ingredients, including use of the food or food additive or component in perhaps millions of people, whereas drugs have unproven safety that must first be shown in animals and then be tested in human clinical trials, which typically exclude wider populations with various health problems. Medical Food ingredients have GRAS designation, the highest FDA standard of safety given to food. Most MFs are also tested in clinical trials to confirm their “traditional use” safety.

The use of Medical Food, regulated by the FDA, represents an entirely different approach to managing diseases. For example, unlike drugs, Limbrel does not treat or mask the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Instead, Limbrel manages the underlying metabolic processes of osteoarthritis to restore the proper metabolic balance of inflammatory metabolites at the cellular level, and thereby promotes normal physiologic function.

A little reminder is in order here: metabolic has to do with your metabolism. The Merriam Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metabolism defines that as
a: the sum of the processes in the buildup and destruction of protoplasm; specifically: the chemical changes in living cells by which energy is provided for vital processes and activities and new material is assimilated…
• Regular exercise can help to increase your metabolism.
b: the sum of the processes by which a particular substance is handled in the living body
c: the sum of the metabolic activities taking place in a particular environment
• the metabolism of a lake

I believe it’s the second definition that concerns us here.

 

What I can say for certain is that, at one point, I doubted it was worth the $50 a month to pay for this medical food so I stopped it. That was a mistake. In retrospect, it seemed that my body’s reaction to stopping was instantaneous… which I doubt is possible. But my elbows started to hurt too much, so I got my prescription. While I may feel some aches and pains on those rare rainy Arizona days, I am relatively pain free the rest of the time.

Until next week,
Keep living your life!

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. It is great to learn new stuffs along my struggling journey!Now in addition to exercise food is medicine. I can’t possibly look back but to move on…to balance my existing diet & exercise plus medication & life-style too. Lifelong learning is the best-bet in term long run educational culture & value for AWARENESS! Thanks for kind & timely sharing & prompt contribution! May you your family & those around you near or far known & unknown well healthy happy & peaceful with smile & cheers always~~~


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