Nutraceuticals vs. Pharmaceuticals: What’s the Difference?

A common belief is that pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals are radically different. The truth, however, is more complex: functional foods and vitamin/mineral supplements work with your body’s metabolic processes,
while herbal supplements and pharmaceuticals both effect changes within your
body’s metabolic processes, while overriding these processes.

Working with Metabolism

The chemical compounds within food and medicinal herbs as they are found
in nature are absorbed through your
body’s digestive system, make their way into your bloodstream, and are
delivered from there to the various parts of your body that need them. These
phytochemicals work with the vitamins and minerals that you consume to keep you
healthy. One of the biggest reasons that doctors and scientists are hesitant to
think of functional food as a form of medicine is that it is so difficult to
determine exactly how much of what kind of food you need to address a specific
problem, and almost impossible to precisely measure the effects Because your
body only absorbs and uses a percentage of the medicinal chemicals in your food,
and their absorption depends in some measure on the vitamins and minerals you
consume, doctors are hesitant to do any more than recommended foods for general

The case is more clear cut with vitamin and mineralsupplements.
Like functional foods, these supplements are absorbed through the
digestive system, then delivered throughout your body via the bloodstream.
While even these supplements interact with nutrients in your body to some
degree, they contain higher concentrations of the vitamins and minerals found
in your food, and can more quickly resolve a nutrient deficiency. (4) A patient
suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example, can supplement his
diet with the B vitamin inositol, as studies suggest that OCD is related to a
deficiency in this vitamin.

So what does all this have to do with metabolism?

Food metabolism is the process by which the fats and carbohydrates from your food
are converted into energy, protein becomes new cells, and the biologically
unavailable components are broken down so they can safely leave your body.
Functional foods and vitamin/mineral supplements are mostly metabolized in the
liver, which is responsible for recognizing toxins and safely removing them
before sending the nutrients into your bloodstream. This process happens
smoothly and with minimal negative effect on your liver.