By Jason Hollinger (MusselsUploaded by Amada44) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In a CRN challenge, NAD recently reviewed claims for Omega XL, an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, sourced from mussels rather than fish. The supplement was backed with lots of science, including product specific testing. So much so that NAD upheld the strong claim that it was “supported by over thirty years of clinical research.” So far all is going swimmingly well. But NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its claim that the product was also a “breakthrough secret,” reasoning that nothing that had been studied for that long could be novel or surprising. This is a good reminder of the need to step back and look at the ad in context and not only as a series of isolated claims, lest your claims combined provide a potential oxymoron like a 30 year breakthrough.

‎While NAD upheld many of the challenged efficacy claims, a few other notes are worth adding to make sure you have your sea legs on when it comes to reviewing dietary supplement claims. NAD said the advertiser could promise you “get back what joint pain and inflammation are limiting you from doing because Omega 8 works” but recommended discontinuing the promise that the supplement makes it “easy for you” to do so. NAD found some consumers might read “easy” to mean that the pain relief would come quickly, while some of the studies suggested it took several weeks for significant pain reduction. In a prior case, NAD suggested ads for dietary supplements should not refer to them as being “prescribed,” because a consumer might misconstrue the product as being as effective as a prescription medicine. In this case, NAD ok’d the use of terms like “dose” and “potency,” however finding that without consumer perception evidence, NAD was not prepared to conclude that these words implied something similar. 

NAD also thought the claim that Omega XL contains “no levels of harmful toxins or PCBs” was not supported. The advertiser said all products sourced from the ocean, even from very pure waters, contain unavoidable trace amounts of environmental toxins and the ‎amounts on Omega XL were tested at less than 0.01 mg/kg of PCBs and less than.005 ug/kg of dioxins, which allows them to claim none detected.  NAD felt “none detected” was not the same as “no levels” or “zero levels.” While the FTC’s Green Guides (not cited by NAD in this decision) allow in some cases a “free” claim when trace levels are present, for NAD and the presence of any amounts of PCBs and other harmful toxins, no needs to mean literally none.

We hope you feel schooled rather than lost at sea in how to appropriately use terms like “breakthrough,” “easy,” “dose,” and “zero levels” to avoid catching a discontinue or modify recommendation from NAD!