Supplements with the potential to support healthy immune function have seen unprecedented demand throughout the pandemic’s unfolding. The surge in consumer interest and purchasing has driven innovation and research, but also highlighted the need for careful scrutiny of unfounded and illegal claims. While it can be acceptable for a dietary supplement to claim to support a healthy immune system, the brand cannot overtly state or imply the product cures or prevents a disease such as COVID-19 or the flu.
In the rush to provide products to meet the increased consumer demand for immune products, many companies have unknowingly—or knowingly, but hoping to miss detection—suggested their products cure or mitigate COVID-19. As a result, FTC and FDA have issued many warning letters for products such as “Corona Destroyer Tea.” The company claimed its product could be used for the “prevention” and “reversal” of COVID-19, and therefore was claiming to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure a disease. With this, the company was in violation of section 505(a) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C), 21 U.S.C. § 355(a). In accordance with section 502 of FD&C, 21 U.S.C. § 352, the product is considered a misbranded drug.
Many companies have made similar claims and received similar letters which are public knowledge and can be found on the FDA and FTC websites. While it’s easy to suggest companies were trying to take advantage of the emotional state of consumers regarding COVID-19 to increase revenue, one must also consider how challenging it can be to make claims about the immune system while avoiding any reference to disease. The challenge is even more heightened considering the urgent nature of making products available immediately to meet consumer demand.
This excerpt is from the “Immune health rising” digital magazine. To read the piece in its entirety and access other articles on the category, click the link.
Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., R.D., is director of scientific affairs at Nutrasource/GRAS Associates.