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Medical food

Medical foods were defined in the Food and Drug Administration's 1988 Orphan Drug Act Amendments[1]. They are foods that are specially formulated and intended for the dietary management of a disease that has distinctive nutritional needs that cannot be met by normal diet alone. Medical foods are subject to the general food and safety labeling requirements of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Medical foods are distinct from the broader category of foods for special dietary use and from traditional foods that bear a health claim. In order for a product to be considered a medical food it must, at a minimum, meet the following criteria:

  • the product must be a food for oral ingestion or tube feeding (nasogastric tube);
  • the product must be labeled for the dietary management of a specific medical disorder, disease or condition for which there are distinctive nutritional requirements; and
  • the product must be intended to be used under medical supervision.

Medical Foods can be classified into the following categories:

  • Nutritionally Complete formulas
  • Nutritionally Incomplete formulas
  • Formulas for metabolic disorders
  • Oral rehydration products

See Also – List of Medical Foods for management of medical disorders


Medical foods for management of allergic conditions

Medical foods for management of allergic conditions may contain both gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a short chain omega-6 fatty acid primarily sourced from the seeds of the borage plant, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid sourced from fish. These fatty acids help to inhibit the production of leukotrienes in the system. Sufficient quantities of GLA and EPA necessary for reduction of leukotrienes cannot be obtained from a normal diet. Leukotrienes are inflammatory molecules produced by immune cells (neutrophils, basophils, mast cells, macrophages and eosinophils) in the body. They are involved in the inflammatory response and cause the narrowing of the airways, increased mucus production and tissue swelling associated with both allergies and asthma. In order to control allergic symptoms, research shows that it helps to inhibit the production of leukotrienes in the body.

Dietary Example: Efficas Care ([2]) Medical food in the form of an emulsion shown through clinical trials to reduce leukotriene production. By reducing leukotriene production, Efficas Care helps to manage allergy and asthma symptoms, including sinus congestion, itchy, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Medical foods for management of diabetes mellitus

Medical foods for management of [[diabetes mellitus] generally contain slowly digested carbohydrates, which helps minimize peaks in blood sugar. Consistent maintenance of optimal blood sugar levels (avoiding highs and lows) over time can help reduce the complications of diabetes.

Dietary Example: Glucerna Shakes ([3])– Medical food in the form of a shake shown through clinical trials to reduce blood sugar peaks. The results of a clinical study comparing Glucerna Shake and a leading standard nutritional beverage showed that Glucerna Shake produced a smaller peak change in blood sugar and a lower blood sugar response over four hours.

Medical foods for management of gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) impairment

Medical foods for management of gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) impairment provide an amino acid-based diet in its most easily digestible (elemental) form to aid in poor nutrient absorption due to digestive disease, malabsorption, severe food allergies, or other conditions in which the GI tract is severely compromised.

Dietary Example: Elecare ([4]) – Nutritionally complete amino acid-based medical food for meeting the needs of children one year of age and older who need an amino-acid based medical food or cannot tolerate intact protein.

Medical foods for management of metabolically stressed patients

Medical foods for management of metabolically stressed patients provide supplemental glutamine to nourish the GI tract and restore glutamine while a patient is in a stressed, catabolic state.

Dietary Example: Alitraq ([5]) – A medical food due to injury from severe multiple trauma, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), GI surgery, severe burns (injury) and injury due to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Disclaimer: This is not a complete list of medical foods, rather a sampling of those available based on common medical disorders.


Medical Foods are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act regulations. 21 CFR 101.9(j) (8) [6]


  • Barham, J.B., et al. 2000, Addition of EPA to GLA Supplemented Diets Prevents Serum Arachidonic Acid Accumulation in Humans, J. Nutr. 130:1925-1931.
  • Johnson, M.M., et al., 1997, Dietary Supplementation with Gamma-Linolenic Acid Alters Fatty acid Content and Eicosanoid Production in Healthy Humans, J. Nutr 127:1435-1444.

See also

US Food and Drug Administration. Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Foods.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Medical_food". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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