New CAST Paper Provides Timely Analysis of Nutraceuticals

October 8, 2003

What Consumers, Regulators, and Researchers Want to Know About Emerging Issues

October 8, 2003…Washington, D.C. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) is releasing a new issue paper that identifies existing and emerging issues in the development and use of nutraceuticals—food compounds with health-promoting, disease-preventive, or medical properties. Authored by a task force of six scientists, Nutraceuticals for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention takes a close look at the rapidly growing field of nutraceutical research and product development.

Diet-related chronic diseases result annually in staggering economic and productivity costs, in addition to premature deaths, and nutraceuticals are perceived by some to offer important opportunities for improving human health and longevity. “Since ancient times, humankind has relied on foods for the prevention and treatment of disease,” says Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and CAST Task Force Chair. “Although synthetic drugs and surgery have been introduced to alleviate, cure, and prevent disease, medical science now is returning to an interest in disease prevention, and new evidence indicates that foods contain numerous naturally occurring health protectants. The key role of a healthy, balanced diet in overall quality of life is therefore making a ‘comeback.’”

Continued U.S. consumer emphasis on preventive health care and maintenance, an aging population with both information access and disposable income, increased acceptance and recommendation by the medical establishment, higher-quality products backed by reliable scientific study, and overall affordability all favor significant future increases in the demand for nutraceuticals.

But with increased demand and consumption comes the responsibility for reliable research and regulation. “Consumers want to know the risks,” says Teresa A. Gruber, CAST Executive Vice President. “The interactions of nutraceuticals with one another, as well as with drugs and nutrients, is receiving increased attention. Both efficacy and safety must be addressed, and this latest CAST Issue Paper provides recommendations for a future that we believe will be impacted by this field of research.”

The task force authors emphasize the importance of consumer education regarding foods and food components. Camire says, “Perceived ‘quick fixes’ such as special diets and supplements may be more appealing to certain consumers than would be conventional dietary advice such as ‘eat a variety of foods in moderation.’” Therefore, health benefits of nutraceuticals must be communicated clearly to consumers and health professionals.

The paper provides a concise glossary of key terms relating to nutraceuticals and cites examples of popular foods and their nutraceuticals. Other topics addressed include the scope of the market, the process of bringing products from discovery to distribution, and the partnership between academia and industry. The authors identify research needs and make policy recommendations to better inform and protect consumers.

In addition to Camire, task force members on the paper included Nancy Childs, Department of Food Marketing, Saint Joseph’s University; Clare M. Hasler, Functional Foods for Health Program, University of Illinois–Urbana; Leonard M. Pike, Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, Texas A&M University; Fereidoon Shahidi, Department of Biochemistry, Memorial University of Newfoundland; and Bruce A. Watkins, Center for Enhancing Foods to Protect Health, Purdue University.

The full text of the paper Nutraceuticals for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (Issue Paper No. 24) may be accessed on the CAST website at, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. CAST is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies. It assembles, interprets, and communicates science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally on food, fiber, agricultural, natural resource, and related societal and environmental issues to its stakeholders—legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

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