The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to Unilever about certain health claims made about the company’s Lipton Decaffeinated Green Tea product.

The agency said Unilever’s Web site – with a link to the site on the product label – contains unauthorized therapeutic and nutrient content claims. On the site, a section titled “Cholesterol Research” says that “Four recent studies in people at risk for coronary disease have shown a significant cholesterol-lowering effect from tea or tea flavonoids. . . . One of these studies, on post-menopausal women, found that total cholesterol was lowered by 8% after drinking 8 cups of green tea daily for 12 weeks.”

That language constitutes a therapeutic claim, the agency said. “The therapeutic claims on your website establish that the product is a drug because it is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,” the letter said.

In addition, the FDA warned Unilever that by using the term “antioxidant” in the statement, “Lipton Tea is made from tea leaves rich in naturally protective antioxidants,” it was making an unauthorized nutrient content claim. To use the term “antioxidant,” a company must establish the nutrients that are subject to the claim, and those nutrients must have recognized antioxidant activity, with the level of each nutrient sufficient to qualify for the claim.

Claims such as “tea is a naturally rich source” or “packed with protective flavonoid antioxidants,” which were also made on the site, fail to comply with the FDA’s requirements because they do not identify the relevant nutrients or their levels, the letter said.

Similar letters were also sent to Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the maker of Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale, as well as Fleminger Inc. and Redco Foods, other makers of green tea products.

To read the FDA’s warning letter to Unilever, click here.

Why it matters: Advertisers should be careful to avoid making unauthorized therapeutic and nutrient content claims to avoid similar warnings from the FDA.