The company made several claims about the benefits of a glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate supplement product 'Natural Joint Defence' in emails, which linked to articles on its website www.thehealthierlife.co.uk.
The Healthier Life website, run by Agora Health Ltd, “uncovers the latest news and breakthrough cures to help you take control of your health the natural way”.
Complaints about the articles centered on claims the product could help “rebuild damaged cartilage while enhancing the lubricating qualities of synovial fluid”, relieve pain for “almost 80% of osteoarthritis sufferers” and that it had effects comparable to anti-inflammatory drugs.
One newsletter article we found online titled 'The real reason your joints ache – you’ll be surprised' directed readers to both evidence of the health effect and an orders page for the Natural Joint Defence product, which cost £36.90 (€46.77) per bottle at a special introductory offer or £41.90 (€53.09) for a one-month supply.
The email is signed by the editor of the advice website.
We asked the company whether such a tie-up presented a conflict of interest, but it did not respond to our request for comment in time for the publication of this article.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis, which causes the joints to become painful and stiff. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 9.6% of men and 18% of women aged over 60 years have symptomatic osteoarthritis worldwide - 80% of those suffer from limited movement and 25% cannot perform key daily tasks as a result of the condition.
The ASA said the statements equated to claims to prevent, treat or cure human disease, which are illegal for foods or food supplements.
The was particularly evident due to the company’s apparent targeting of people who already had the condition osteoarthritis.
“The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Agora Health Ltd not to make claims to prevent, treat or cure human disease for foods in future,” the ASA concluded in its ruling.
The company responded to the ASA’s investigation with studies it considered supportive of the claims made.
According to the EU register, there are no approved claims concerning joint health.
However, 71 rejected claims relating to joint health are listed on the system, many of which concern chondroitin and glucosamine.
There has been mounting evidence for such a health impact however.
Last year a Cochrane review of 43 clinical trials including 9,110 people concluded chondroitin sulfate was safe and efficacious for improving pain and functional capacity in people with osteoarthritis.
Meanwhile the French food safety authority (ANSES) is investigating whether joint heath supplements containing glucosamine and/or chondroitin should be kept on the French market following reports of liver and endocrine damage through its nutrivigilance monitoring system. An opinion is due by the end of this year.
Food supplements positioned for joint health accounted for a retail value of €301.7m in Europe in 2013 up from €262.2m in 2012, according to data from Euromonitor International.