The European Food Safety Authority has turned down Unilever-submitted health claims linking black tea consumption and improved mental focus because they failed to demonstrate causality.
The Parma, Italy-based scientific assessor told the Dutch arm of Unilever its evidence was insufficient to support claims black tea products derived from Camellia sinensis could focus attention and enhance alertness.
Unilever global media relations director, Trevor Gorin, told NutraIngredients.com his company stood by the claims, despite EFSA’s opinion.
“We still believe that the claim linking consumption of black tea helps to focus attention and enhance alertness can be substantiated,” he said.
“We have reviewed the EFSA opinion and have submitted detailed comments on it to the European Commission, as per the proper process.”
The claim the food giant submitted fell under article 13.5 of the European Union health and nutrition claims regulation that is due for resolution within the 27-member states of the European Union by the end of January, 2010.
While EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) said the claim “helps you to focus attention” is sufficiently defined and testable; and the claim “helps to focus attention” might be beneficial to human health, the NDA took issue with the submitted evidence based on the stimulant properties of theanine and caffeine.
It said only three studies were of relevance to the claim but each of these fell down for being either inconsistent or incomprehensive.
Two unpublished, proprietary, randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled and crossover-design experiments compared the effects of black tea to those of coloured/flavoured water in regard to “attention-switching and multisensory-attention tasks”.
“For both tasks there was no consistent improvement in the response speed with tea compared to placebo in either experiment,” NDA stated in its opinion. “The Panel notes the inconsistency in the findings between the two studies that were similar in design with only a small difference in cumulative dose for the purported active components (46 vs 36 mg theanine, 100 vs 90 mg caffeine).”
The other study improved accuracy across tasks “but effects on reaction times were inconsistent.” Doses of theanine and caffeine were also significantly higher in the study than they were in the “conditions of use”.
Given the totality of evidence it therefore concluded “that the evidence provided is insufficient to establish a cause and effect relationship between the consumption of black tea from Camellia sinensis and ‘helps to focus attention’.”
Unilever suggested other claim wordings that included:
- “Black tea helps to clear your mind by helping you focus”
- “Black tea helps you to switch attention”
- “Black tea helps you to be less distracted”
- “Black tea helps you to feel alert”
- “Black tea helps you to be more accurate”
- “Black tea helps you to concentrate on the most important things”
- “Black tea helps you to focus so you have a less cluttered mind”
Green tea extracts from Camellia sinensis have shown blood pressure reduction potential in some trials.
An updated article 13 list means EFSA now has about 4000 claims to assess, up from 2700.