The Basis of Structure/Function Claims of Nutraceuticals

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2016 Dec;51(3):370-382. doi: 10.1007/s12016-016-8536-9.


In the United States, as in most of the world, there are large numbers of nutraceuticals that are sold and which people take to boost their immune response. There are, in addition, almost an equal number of products sold to reduce allergies. However, very few consumers, and indeed physicians, are aware of what a structure/function claim is. Structure/function claims are labeling claims that can be used to describe the potential effects of a dietary ingredient or similar substance on the structure or function of the human body. This category of claims was created by legislation contained in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. The intent was to supply consumers with reasonably substantiated information that would allow them to make educated choices about their diet and health. They were not intended to have the same weight and substantiation as the claims made for conventional prescription pharmaceuticals. Rather, they were proposed to fill the gap between consumer desire for over-the-counter supplements and foods, and rigorous and generally more potent and potentially "toxic" prescription medications. The legally mandated disclaimer, stating that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated the structure/function claim, often leads to misinterpretation. While there should be a biologic premise underlying the claim, there is not an absolute requirement for a conventional rigorous placebo-controlled dose response trial. While this may not be the clinical standard that a typical scientific oriented society might desire, it reflects the attempts of the FDA to find common grounds and to allow consumers to use products that are generally considered as safe based on historical use and biologic comparisons. The logic of, indeed need for, structure/function claims is straightforward; however, of equal importance is that nutraceuticals should be properly labeled, have accuracy in their ingredients, be free of contamination, be safe, and have a reasonable body of data that supports their efficacy.

Keywords: Alternative medicine; Dietary supplements; FDA; Immune booster; Integrative medicine; Nutraceuticals.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consumer Health Information
  • Dietary Supplements* / analysis
  • Dietary Supplements* / history
  • Dietary Supplements* / standards
  • Drug Labeling
  • Food
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Legislation, Drug*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration*