Good for You but Not a Cure
~ August 2000 No.107 ~
To the consumer, the rules are confusing. To the food industry, the rules are frustrating. But to the regulators, the rules are clear. There are foods and there are drugs and it should be easy to distinguish between the two. However, the problem arises when a food manufacturer wants to make health claims on the product label. A limited number of structure - function claims are now allowed in the United States which state the relationship between well recognized foods and food ingredients and their role in overall nutrition and health. For example, food high in calcium such as milk can make a claim that relates calcium and osteoporosis such as "Regular exercise and a healthy diet with enough calcium helps teen and young adult white and Asian women maintain good bone health and may reduce their high risk of osteopersosis later in life.
When a company uses certain words on the label, however, it ventures into forbidden territory. The words cure, mitigate, prevent, treat or diagnose a disease are reserved for drugs only and are not allowed on food labels. This is true in the US and many other countries. The system of approval for drugs is very rigorous and to get approval for a drug is not easy or cheap. This explains why so few drugs get onto the market and why it is only the large drug companies that can afford to go through the regulatory process. But should food be put through the same sort of review before claims can be made? Food manufacturers say no; the regulatory officials haven´t decided yet.
Unfortunately, while the debate is going on, the science continues. A good example is tea. Tea is known to be a good source of a wide variety of very powerful antioxidants. Tea is one of the best sources of polyphenols in the diet. Free radicals are formed in the cells of the body during normal metabolism. They are also formed in cigarette smoke and by a variety of chemical pollutants. Free radicals attack cell membranes and cellular DNA and have been shown to be a starting point for cancers. Antioxidants are able to deactivate free radicals that are formed in the cell and prevent them from doing their damage. When tea and tea polyphenols are compared to more well known antioxidants such as vitamin E in a variety of laboratory tests, the tea is a more powerful antioxidant.
Free radicals have been shown to cause a variety of cancers either directly or indirectly. Antioxidants destroy free radicals. Tea is a good source of antioxidants. Therefore, drinking tea or consuming the polyphenols in tea is a way of preventing cancer. If this is true, then from a labelling legislation point of view tea is a drug.
Many people who are looking for ways to improve their diet as a way of preventing and combatting chronic disease are switching to tea. Taking a tea break may be good both psychologically and physically