Health Supplements vs Pharmaceuticals

Medicine-whether in the form of health supplements or pharmaceuticals-is big business indeed. With profit margins that are nearly four times the average of any other business, the pharmaceutical industry enjoys a top position being amongst the most profitable businesses in the world.

The nutraceutical industry is not far behind offering stiff competition to pharmaceutical counterparts. Research is booming and science-based studies have given successful impetus to the plant-based health supplement industry. Some of the more popular botanicals like as Echinacea, gingko biloba, ginseng, garlic, and St. John’s Wort are seeing sales that put them in the same league with many prescription drugs. In fact, so popular is the health supplement industry that pharmaceutical giants like Bayer, American Home Products, Johnson and Johnson and Boeheringer-Ingelheim have all begun to sell supplements!

What is the Difference?

There is not much of a difference between nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals except for the way in which they are regulated in the United States although both are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration. Major differences include:

* Pharmaceuticals that are derived from plant proteins for vaccines and medical treatments are not the same as nutraceuticals. The major difference is that pharmaceuticals are designed specifically for medical use under a physician’s supervision, and are subject to Food And Drugs Administration approval.

Health supplements do not need medical supervision, nor Food And Drugs Administration approval.

* Pharmaceuticals need prescription from a certified doctor for purchase. The choice of a health supplements is up to the individual. Health supplements are sold without restrictions at health food stores, grocery stores, drug stores, national discount chains, mail-order and Internet.

* There are no strict regulating laws governing health supplements. Just about anyone can put together a health supplement, notify the Food And Drugs Administration , and put it in the market. In stark contrast, it takes anywhere between 8-12 years for a new drug to be approved by the Food And Drugs Administration . Pharmaceuticals undergo intense regulatory reviews by the Food And Drugs Administration .

* Because of stricter regulations, pharmaceuticals have greater evidence of efficacy and safety. Whereas health supplements are based on tradition with insufficient evidence of safety and efficacy. However, this is changing as new research builds up to support the health benefits of some of the accepted nutrients. Eg omega 3 fatty acids.

* Pharmaceuticals are patented. Herbs and health supplements are not patented and therefore the profits are limited with stiff competition from all kinds of health supplement manufacturers.

* Pharmaceuticals spend millions of dollars for research and paperwork for a new therapeutic claim of an established drug all to satisfy Food And Drugs Administration requirements. Food And Drugs Administration requirements for health supplements are not at all stringent apart from barring them from making any false health claims about their product and adding a disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

* Pharmaceuticals come with various side effects. Known side effects are required to be disclosed on the label. While health supplements do not require a listing of side effects, there tends to be fewer cases of side effects associated with the use of health supplements.

Complaining about the high cost of traditional medicine and side effects, many people are turning to alternative medicine in the form of health supplements. A report by the Hartman Group, a leading market research firm called, “The Wellness Trends in 2002″ found that Americans are beginning to place the family and good health above the daily routines of life. Among those interviewed many expressed frustration with U.S. healthcare system and wanted more control over their own health. The report said, “Dietary supplements … (allow) them a way of self-managing their own health … giving them a sense of empowerment,” the report states. This is an advantage over pharmaceuticals.According to the Nutrition Business Journal fast growth in the nutraceutical market is seen in weight-loss products.

The demand for such products is growing as you consider the more than 120 million overweight Americans and 17 million diabetics who are looking for supplements that increase metabolism, suppress or satiate appetite, and control blood sugar. Such sectors in the health supplement industry have gained footage over pharmaceuticals.In America, 60% of the consumers take some kind of food supplement and 30 to 40% take herbal supplements. Health supplements are gaining such credibility that many physicians are recommending them to their patients before prescribing riskier pharmaceuticals. Of the health supplement users 95% are satisfied with supplements.In the meanwhile, research is still booming in both industries! Health supplement manufacturers continue to unveil groundbreaking products as new evidence supporting the health benefits of nutraceuticals emerges.