Coronavirus immunity claim warning for Omega-3 industry

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | stocksnapper
Getty | stocksnapper

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid omega-3 COVID-19 Health claims

Omega-3 businesses have been warned about the dangers of making immunity claims during this Coronavirus crisis.

GOED (the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA) has sent out a warning to the industry that a general “immunity” claim on a product could be considered an implied claim about COVID-19 given the current situation.

The organisation warns there is an insufficient body of scientific literature to connect EPA/DHA to benefits of either positive general or viral immunity outcomes in a healthy population.

"We have done a literature search on this topic and do not believe the science supports a claim.

"Given the context — COVID-19 — the scientific literature on viral immunity (not general immunity) is what is relevant. As members know, we are building a clinical study database and we were able to use that tool to examine the body of scientific evidence.

"We ran a search using the following query string: (virus OR viral OR influenza) AND (eicosapentaenoic OR docosahexaenoic OR docosapentaenoic OR omega-3 OR "fish oil" OR "cod liver oil" OR "krill oil" OR "n-3PUFA" OR "n-3 PUFA”), which returned 22 interventional studies, mostly positive, and one relevant neutral systematic review.

"The issue is, the majority of the studies were conducted in diseased populations so it would be difficult to argue that this population would have the same immune response as an otherwise healthy individual.

"We did another search related to general immunity and, based on a quick review of the article titles (both meta-analyses and interventional trials), it appears the majority of the studies were conducted in diseased populations, again making it difficult to draw any reasonable conclusions in a healthy population.

"Based on this research, GOED concludes that there is an insufficient body of scientific literature to connect EPA/DHA to benefits of either positive general or viral immunity outcomes in a healthy population.

"It is also worth mentioning that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are closely watching for misleading product claims around COVID-19 prevention or treatment and even a general “immunity” claim on a product could be considered an implied claim about COVID-19 given the current environment."

Gretchen Vannice, Director of Nutrition Education and Research at AlaskOmega ingredients, says this warning is a smart step for GOED and consistent with their mission and code of ethics.

"As an industry, we sell dietary supplements ingredients, that is, nutrients intended to improve proper, normal functioning or to support the structure of the human body.  As such, without evidence, we can not and should not make claims we can not support."  

However she pointed out that there is no questioning that Omega-3 supplements, specifically fish oil supplements containing EPA and DHA omega-3s are required nutrition for general immune function and part of their essential need is in general immune function.  

"The keen distinction, albeit not obvious, is important and crucial for human health.  It comes down to the fundamental role of EPA and DHA as essential fatty acids.  Part of their essential need is in general immune function.  

"Everyone needs EPA and DHA omega-3 for healthy immune function.  EPA and DHA supply the raw material, the source materials from which our body can produce molecules necessary for our immune system to operate properly. For example, from EPA and DHA we produce compounds (e.g., prostaglandins, leukotrienes, resolvins) needed to support healthy respiratory function, body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and resolve inflammation.  

"Most omega-3 savvy people know that a key function of EPA is to drive healthy inflammation; this is part of immune health.  Some may know about key functions of DHA in immune function.

"EPA and DHA are available only in seafood or fish oil supplements. Our bodies cannot make enough of these precious, essential nutrients. EPA and DHA naturally occur only in seafood and purified fish oil, and the only way to get their health benefits is to consume them in our diet or fish oil supplements.

"There is a great need for essential EPA and DHA Omega-3 (in other words, intake by and large is insufficient to meet essential need). Most people understand that vitamin C supports immune health and most people living in industrialised nations consume the daily recommended intake for vitamin C.

"This is not the case when it comes to omega-3s. Most people are not consuming minimum intake recommendations for EPA and DHA omega-3s and are lacking essential nutrition necessary for healthy immune function. Their health, is in fact, compromised."


NutraIngredients will host a webinar on the subject of trust and transparency in the omega-3 industry on Wednesday (March 25th​) at 3pm GMT (London), 4PM CET (Paris), 10AM CT (Chicago).

The omega-3 industry has benefited from decades of scientific research which has helped build strong consumer trust but with shoppers generally becoming increasingly sceptical about health claims and concerned about environmental sustainability, the industry has to step up to meet increasingly strict expectations.

From initial sourcing to final marketing, our panel will discuss the best techniques for building trust and transparency for omega-3 consumers concerned about personal and environmental health.

And with the pandemic changing purchasing habits fast, we will also ensure to discuss how this crisis could affect this industry.

The panel will be chaired by Nikki Hancocks, NutraIngredients Section Editor and joined by Ellen Schutt, Executive Director at GOED, Camiel Derichs, Programme Development Director at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Len Monheit, CEO of the Trust Transparency Center, and Mike Hughes, Director of Insights at global market insight provider FMCG Gurus.

To register to listen in on the webinar and ask your own questions to the panel of experts, click here​ 

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