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Is it ‘Food’ or ‘Medicine’?

For some foods and supplements the way they are used, or the health claims made about them can determine if they are classified as either a ‘food’ or
HELEN TRUBY: Food as medicine and can be considered in a couple of ways. The meaning that foods are there to optimise health and wellbeing, or that foods can be used to treat and cure disease, that has a therapeutic effect that perhaps is similar to the way we think about drugs. One of the things that humans all have in common is their need to eat. We all need food. Our body seeks food and if we don’t have enough, over a period of time we eventually starve and die. Most nutritional professionals will define good diet now as one that promotes and maintains good health.
For example, we don’t talk about oranges being medicinal but we would talk about vitamin C tablet being medicinal, even though we could eat an orange and get the Vitamin C from it. Vitamin C is important obviously in preventing scurvy, but the amount that we get in a vitamin C tablet is usually in far in excess of the amount that we actually need to prevent scurvy. So a tablet could be regarded as a medicine, whereas no one would refer to an orange as medicine. There’s often foods and therapeutic goods
that actually sit on borderlines between: are they food, or are they medicine? And most governments will have regulations that stipulate what are foods, and what our medicinal elements of those foods. And food labelling and regulation is incredibly important in being able, for consumers, to be able to make informed choices about what they’re buying. Food regulations are designed to protect the consumer and also give them information about what actual claims are made on food and where food can be used as medicine.

For some foods and supplements the way they are used, or the health claims made about them can determine if they are classified as either a ‘food’ or ‘medicine’ (therapeutic).

Watch Helen Truby, discuss how it is not always clear cut as to whether a food or supplement is classified as a food or a medicine; sometimes there is potential for regulatory overlap. In Australia this overlap is referred to as the ‘food-medicine’ interface.

How a country defines ‘foods’ and ‘medicines’ may differ. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is the regulatory body in Australia which regulates therapeutic goods and can help determine when and how foods or supplements may be used or called ‘medicine’.

Talking point

Read the Food and medicine regulation page on the TGA website, return to this step and then in the Comments consider sharing with other learners you thoughts on the following question:

  • What’s the name of the organisation in your country that regulates medicine?
  • How do they determine if something is a medicine or food?

Don’t forget to contribute to the discussion by reviewing the comments made by other learners, making sure you provide constructive feedback and commentary.

Remember you can also ‘Like’ comments or follow other learners throughout the course.

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Food as Medicine

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