Probiotic panacea?


Well yet another harmless activity of mine has been banned. Slowly all the things I enjoy in life are being removed: burping, lying on the sofa all Saturday... and now my wife has banned shouting at the TV! I don't want you to think I'm odd, I only shout during the commercials and only specific types of commercials. 

What tends to cause me to express my disgust is dubious claims, scientific sounding words and the general pseudo-science various purveyors of goods use.

One of the main triggers used to be yogurty drinks with bacteria in them. In fairness these still wind me up, but not as much as they used to. That's because they have toned down their claims. Before 2009 Danone, the producer of 'Actimel', was making various claims about what their drink could do, including improving the immune system in otherwise healthy children.

Well, someone complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (the monitoring organisation in the UK). Not me, unfortunately; I wish it had been, but I was too busy shouting. 

Here's where it gets frankly amusing or disturbing depending on how you see things. Danone produced 'evidence' to support its claim of 'supporting the immune system' in healthy children.

They submitted five studies:

 Studies 1 and 2 showed a slight effect on the duration of diarrhoea in young children and a slight effect on how often they got diarrhoea. Pretty slim, but it gets worse, as the studies used much larger amounts of the product than would usually be consumed. Also the studies were done on very young children with a mean age of 15 months of age.  

 But OK; maybe the others are better.

Studies 3 and 4 were well designed, but were about Actimel's effect on Indian children with acute diarrhoea or receiving treatment for chronic H Pylori infection. Neither scenario likely to be the case for the average healthy Western child.  

Maybe the last study clears it up

Study 5 looked at the bacteria in the gut of children between 10-18 months but made no assessment of the impact on the immune system or health in general. 

Well the ASA came to the conclusion (full report) that this wasn't really good enough and made them change the commercial. 

The company had been running the advert or similar ones for over two years and if anyone bought the product based on those claims they were basically being misled. A pretty poor show in my opinion. 

This is one of Danone's latest offerings to the world of science. Before you rush out and get your fermented milk with Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 the study showed no significant effect!

Next week those shampoo ads...

Say hello to your gut flora! Courtesy of the National Institute of Health, USA.

Say hello to your gut flora!

Courtesy of the National Institute of Health, USA.

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