Medical nutrition – promising new ‘super-food’ ?

Medical nutrition is a rapidly evolving sector in the food industry and recently grabbed news headlines because of a promising Alzheimer’s study. Alzheimer’s patients taking a medical nutrition supplement showed noticeable improvement with memory and verbal recall.

Medical nutrition is a fascinating area of research, an evolving field in terms of legislation (food or pharma?) and a new uncharted area for product marketing.

Here’s a quick overview, if you’re not familiar with medical nutrition. There are a variety of players but the big guys are Danone and Nestlé.

What is medical nutrition?

Medical nutrition helps to manage disease-related malnutrition and specific disease conditions. It can manage the symptoms, or the progression of a disease, by controlling malnutrition and meeting special dietary needs.

Are these products food or pharmaceuticals?

In Europe, they are not classified as pharmaceuticals, but medical nutrition products require stringent research and clinical trials before they come to market.

Developers of medical nutrition supplements typically  partner with external research organizations to share knowledge and participate in patient trials. From a legislative perspective, the products are classified as food, so some developers are marketing them as ‘advanced nutrition’.

Is medical nutrition a replacement for medical treatment?

No, medical nutrition supplements don’t replace traditional drug treatments. Think of them as a synergistic complement to a traditional medical treatment program for a disease. But who knows, future research may discover ways that targeted nutrition can reduce the medications that are needed to treat certain diseases.

How do people take these products?

By drinking or eating the supplement as a beverage, soup, meal, or dessert, or delivered to the gastro-intestinal tract via a feeding tube.

Where do you find medical nutrition products?

They are usually prescribed or recommended by health care professionals, may be reimbursed by health insurance, and are distributed in hospitals, care homes, pharmacies, and special home-delivery channels.

If you’re already healthy, don’t get overly-excited!

If you are a healthy person, you are probably not going to need these products. However, as more medical nutrition products come to market, I’m wondering if marketing people will eventually get the bright idea to create consumer versions marketed as ‘wellness formulas.’ This theory is just my own personal speculation.  Time will tell…

MIT’s Alzheimer’s study

A study sponsored by Danone examined the combined effects of uridine, choline, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to help restore brain synapses in persons with mild Alzheimer’s disease. These elements are naturally found in our bodies in low concentrations. But when patients in the study took them in a specially engineered ‘cocktail’, called Souvenaid®, the results were promising.

The study involved 225 patients with mild Alzheimer’s. Some took the Souvenaid® medical nutrition supplement, and others received a non-medicated drink, once a day for 12 weeks.

Patients taking the medical nutrition supplement showed significant improvement in delayed verbal recall tests.

This means the ability to remember and respond to previously explained information.

Bottom-line: Medical nutrition is an interesting concept and I’m going to be keep a close eye on developments.  An older member of my family has Alzheimer’s and I hope that he can benefit from the research developments in this field.

Do you know someone who has Alzheimer’s disease?

Learn more about the disease at this site, Alzheimer Group – Europe. They also offer information for caretakers of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and a Care Guide in seven languages.