Medical Foods Part 1: Science, History and Application

Supplements, Vitamins & Medical Foods Oh My! We’re in part one of our medical food series and it’s a big and confusing world out there. We’re diving into what exactly are medical foods, why do they exist, what are some common uses for them relating to specific conditions, and lastly what are the most popular medical foods themselves..

What Are Medical Foods?

There is a lot of confusion out there so let’s get into exactly what Medical Foods are and aren’t. 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.

The FDA of course has a much longer definition which is: “a food which is formulated to be consumed or administered enterally under the supervision of a physician and which is intended for the specific dietary management of a disease or condition for which distinctive nutritional requirements, based on recognized scientific principles, are established by medical evaluation.” What kind of conditions are we talking about you ask? Irritable Bowel Disease would be one such condition which would encompass Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis and that’s just for starters. We’ll get into the other conditions in a future post but think things like sarcopenia, and compromised gut function in general. There have been medical foods specifically created to help with these conditions. Dietary Supplements on the other hand provide nutritional support for people that are considered healthy meaning they don’t have an identified disease that requires nutritional support but may need additional calcium as they age or they may have a dietary deficiency they are trying to make up for.

Why Do They Exist & History

Medical foods are meant to reduce the impacts or symptoms of a specific disease or condition when the patient cannot manage the condition through diet modification and therefore requires nutritional supplementation.

The use of medical foods is thought to have started in the 1940’s when convalescing elderly patients were given formulas of lipids, carbohydrate and whey protein. The first commercially developed medical food was developed in the late 1960’s and was called Lofenalac. It was a formula for infants developed by Mead Johnson to treat the inborn error of metabolism phenylketonuria (PKU).2

The Orphan Drug Act of 1983 was the first-time medical foods were officially defined. It stated Medical Foods were specially formulated mixtures of nutrients and phytochemicals to be used under physician supervision. Although medical foods don’t need to be registered or approved by the FDA the FDA has provided some oversight over the years. The FDA’s medical foods page can be found at this link

Top 4 Medical Food Uses:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
    (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are the most common types of Inflammatory Bowel. The difference between the two is party based on location. Cronh’s can involve any location on the GI tract starting at the mouth and going to the perianal area. Ulcerative Colitis usually involves either the colon or the rectum
  • Compromised Gut Function
    If you experience abnormal absorption of nutrients in your intestines that would be an example of compromised gut function. This could be caused by a lack of nutrient absorption further up in your body and may be related to medical conditions like celiac disease, crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis or short bowel syndrome. The lack of nutrient absorption in this category can also be linked to bacterial overgrowth in the intestinal tract.
  • Sarcopenia
    It literally means “lack of flesh” and it’s a condition of age-based muscle degeneration that becomes more common in people over 50. Some causes of Sarcopenia are aging related while others are preventable with a healthy diet and regular exercise. For those that may not be able to exercise due to injury or are experiencing rapid muscle loss a medical food recommended by their doctor may be an option to reduce the effects. The main ingredients that can help with Sarcopenia are protein, vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids and creatine. For more details on Sarcopenia check out our article “Top Supplements For Sarcopenia Related Muscle Loss in Older Adults”.
  • Dyslipidemia
    It used to be the top three but now it’s the top four with the addition of medical food’s for Dyslipidemia. Dyslipidemia is a big word that simply means there is elevated total cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which is the bad type of cholesterol. High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels (this is the good kind) can be low, and the concentrations of other lipids and apolipoproteins can also be abnormal.1-4 Dyslipidemia contributes to the development of atherosclerosis which is a hardening of the arteries and is an important risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke. It can also cause peripheral artery disease which reduces blood flow usually in the legs causing damage and potentially stroke. For more on Dyslipidemia check out our article “Medical Foods Dyslipidemia”.

Popular Medical Foods

So what are some of the most popular medical foods out there? From what we see in the marketplace and hear from customers, the company Metagenics has most of the most popular medical foods for the conditions we’ve focused on in this post. Although there are a wide range of supplements for GI related conditions when it comes to the actual “medical food” aspect this is where Metagenics excels. Nutridyn is also a recent entrant into the Medical Foods space. Please note that none of these products should be taken without the express consent of your doctor and should be used in partnership with your doctor for your specific medical plan and conditions.

UltraInflamX Plus 360 by Metagenics - Tropical Mango 30 Serving Pouch

In support of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Compromised Gut Function, UltraInflamX utilizes a proprietary vegan pea/rice protein matrix technology with added amino acids (including 50% essential amino acids, including branched chain amino acids) and L-glutamine to support lean tissue and intestinal mucosal cells. It features Isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO), a prebiotic that encourages the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which promote intestinal mucosal health and a healthy intestinal environment. The fat profile includes flaxseed oil, a source of alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and medium chain triglycerides, a rapidly absorbed lipid source. UltraInflamX includes 20+ vitamins and minerals, including key micronutrient forms designed for enhanced bioavailability (folate, B12, D3) to help address increased nutrient needs and 6 grams of fiber per serving. It comes in the following flavors and package sizes.

30 Serving Pouch: Tropical Mango | Pineapple Banana
14 Serving Pouch: Tropical Mango | Pineapple Banana | Chocolate Orange | Original Spice | Orange

Dynamic Inflam-eze Chocolate Orange

In support of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Compromised Gut Function, Dynamic Inflam-Eze utilizes a vegan rice protein matrix technology with added amino acids including branched chain amino acids) and L-glutamine to support lean tissue and intestinal mucosal cells. Dynamic Inflam-Eze is a comprehensive nutritional supplement for individuals looking to support overall well-being and healthy inflammatory markers with potent ingredients such as turmeric. It is a plant-based protein powder full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, BCAAs, and a balanced ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats for optimal support of macro- and micronutrients based on clinical research.

UPDATES (11/10/2020): The pea protein was removed and replaced with a rice protein for easier digestibility. The can sugar was removed and replaced with all natural Xylitol as a healthier sweetener option. 500mg of lysine per serving was added which is clinically shown to promote healthy stress response.

It comes in the following flavors and package sizes.

30 Serving Pouch: Chocolate Orange | Spcied Chai | Rainbow Punch
14 Serving Pouch: Chocolate Orange | Spcied Chai | Rainbow Punch

Metagenics UltraGI Replenish Chocolate 30 Serving Pouch
Metagenics UltraGI Replenish Chocolate 30 Serving Pouch

UltraGI Replenish is a medical food formulated to provide specialized macro and micro-nutrient support for patients with compromised gut function with digestive disorders including malabsorption. UltraGI is specifically formulated to address gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBD), Leaky Gut, Crohns and has scientifically proven nutrients. 

Ultragi Replenish is specially designed for maximum absorption utilizing a proprietary formula called Sustamine. Sustamine is an advanced form of L-Glutamine that is highly absorb-able and in studies it shows a 224%  increase in absorption compared to standard L-Glutamine. L-Glutamine is a fuel source for your mucosal cells and this critical amino acid works hard to improve those intestinal mucosal cells so they can work properly. Many of the symptoms of Leaky Gut are resolved once these cells have healed and can perform their basic functions so absorption into those cells is key to ensuring they are functioning optimally.

30 Serving Pouch: Chocolate | Vanilla
14 Serving Pouch: Chocolate | Vanilla

Metagenics Ultra Meal Advanced Protein Dutch Chocolate
Metagenics Ultra Meal Advanced Protein Dutch Chocolate

UltraMeal Advanced Protein is a medical food specially formulated to support the nutritional management of sarcopenia. This advanced formula features essential amino acids, including added leucine, to support the healthy aging of skeletal muscle and to help address sarcopenia, the age-associated loss of skeletal muscle mass.
Each serving provides 20 g of protein from a proprietary blend of pea and rice and amino acids. 10 g (of the total protein) consist of essential amino acids including 5 g of BCAA, which, combined with exercise, may help support muscle maintenance.

Cocoa polyphenols support processes that contribute to healthy blood flow and vascular function. Additionally UltraMeal Advanced Protein contains 20+ essential vitamins and minerals—including calcium L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF, a body-ready folate), methylcobalamin (vitamin B12)—to support protein synthesis and healthy metabolic function, and 4 g of prebiotic isomalto-oligosaccharides.

14 Serving Container: Dutch Chocolate | French Vanilla | Plain


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