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Nestlé Is Betting Big on the Future of Medicinal Food

They created a company called Nestlé Health Science, which describes itself as “a health-science company aiming to foster a therapeutic role for nutrition in healthcare.

Do you live to eat or eat to live? This age-old question has been answered by the people who brought you Nestlé Quik and Nestlé Crunch bars, and you might be surprised by their answer.

Yes, the company that is synonymous—at least in our minds—with chocolate and instant noodle scandals is looking to the future. They realize that by 2020, "one billion people in the world will be over 60, increasing the burden on society from obesity and chronic diseases." With health care costs expected to skyrocket, Nestlé figures good nutrition will be an area of increasing demand. That's why they created a company called Nestlé Health Science, which describes itself as "a health-science company aiming to foster a therapeutic role for nutrition in healthcare. Their motto is "where nutrition becomes therapy."

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It doesn't sound as much fun as a spoonful of chocolate added to a glass of milk, but such is life.

This newfangled food company for the 21st century has a three-point mandate. There's a division called Consumer Care, especially for aging populations; Medical Nutrition, which supplies hospitals and other healthcare facilities; and Novel Therapeutic Nutrition, targeting specific diseases and conditions.

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"Nestlé Health Science was actually formed nearly five years ago, in 2011, as the first of a new breed of health-science company. It focuses on advancing the role of nutritional therapy to change the course of health management for consumers, patients and our partners in healthcare," Meike Schmidt, a Corporate Spokesperson from Nestlé SA told MUNCHIES.

The Lausanne-based company is investing in businesses that have a head start in things like amino acid research, congenital metabolic disorders, and issues related to gut health. Medicinal foods, including prescription-based powders, will be the stuff they create, often targeting specified diseases, like crohn's disease and epilepsy.

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While the food business is not an easy one to dive into, the estimated $15 billion medical foods market is there for the taking. In Lausanne, machines are analyzing human DNA to help create personalized nutrition solutions.

Using food as a serious supplement to medicine hasn't always been well-accepted. "For a long time, nutrition has been seen as a sort of pseudoscience," Ed Baetge of Nestlé says. "For many conditions like age-related dementia, for example, there is a major clinical need for new approaches, where food can make a big difference."

Nestlé is taking a science-based approach, it says, studying safety and effectiveness. "It is very important for us to have clinical evidence," Nestlé's Health Science spokeswoman Marie-Francoise Rutimeyer says.

In the not-so-distant future will we all be taking an eat-to-live approach? Will we be downing tinctures to remedy our ills and re-formulating powders to cure our illnesses? Perhaps. But let's hope the chocolate keeps coming, just for the fun of it.