Intended for healthcare professionals


Functional foods: health boon or quackery?

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 24 July 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:205

Regulations are needed to govern their composition and advertising

  1. Michael F Jacobson, Executive director (,
  2. Bruce Silverglade, Director of legal affairs
  1. Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009, USA

    The dividing line between foods and drugs is becoming increasingly blurred In the United States a canned split pea soup features the herb St John's Wort to “give your mood a natural lift,” and a chewing gum with phosphatidyl serine claims it “improves concentration.” In Japan a soft drink named VegitaBeta is fortified with β carotene “to support a healthy lifestyle.” And in the United Kingdom, MD Foods claimed that its butter-like spread made with fish oil would benefit the heart. What is our food supply turning into?

    The driving forces behind foods that claim drug-like effects are evidence suggesting beneficial effects of phytochemicals and other substances and the public's great interest in alternative health remedies. Those factors, coupled with weak government regulation, attract marketers who see big profits in “functional foods.”

    In some cases adding substances to foods offers real …

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