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Medical foods 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. They were defined in the Food and Drug Administration's 1988 Orphan Drug Act Amendments and 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 to be considered a medical food the product must, at a minimum:
Medical foods can be classified into the following categories:
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.
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.
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