Study: No Support for Probiotic Health Claims

October 3/The Irish Times -- A European study which examined health claims about probiotic drinks and dairy products has found there is not enough scientific evidence to back up the claims.

The European Food Safety Authority panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies could not establish a link between the consumption of the products and improvements in health.

The report gave the panel s scientific opinion of more than 500 food products for which health claims were made. These included vitamins and minerals, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, probiotic bacteria and botanical substances.

Probiotic products produced by Danone and Yakult were not included in the study. Both companies opted to supply their own scientific evidence to the panel, which is expected to be evaluated early next year.

In a third of the products examined, it was found that claims made did have a scientific basis. These included sugar-free chewing gums that help maintain dental health, products containing dietary fibers that help bowel motor function and those containing fatty acids for the maintenance of cholesterol levels.

Almost half of the products that failed evaluation did so because there was a lack of information on the substance on which the claim was based. This group included probiotic bacteria.

The panel's report said without clear identification of the substance in question, they could not verify that the scientific evidence provided to the authority related to the same substance for which the health benefits were claimed.

The probiotic bacteria examined included lactobacillus rhamnosus and bifidobacterium animalis lafti B94, which producers claimed decreased potentially pathogenic intestinal micro-organisms, and lactobacillus casei F19, which producers said improved bowel motor function.

The report will be sent to the EU Commission, which is likely to prohibit the unproven claims from being used in Europe.

Panel chairman Prof Albert Flynn said the panel s independent scientific advice would help to ensure that health claims made on foods were accurate and helpful to consumers in making healthy diet choices.  

From the October 12, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition