A leading European food watchdog has claimed that probiotic drinks and yogurts, popular with millions of consumers trying to eat healthily, do not boost the immune system or aid digestive health.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has examined more than 800 health claims from food companies, including those submitted by the multi-billion pound probiotic industry.
EFSA's independent panel of scientists found that the claims that these products could strengthen the body's defenses, improve immune function and reduce gut problems were either so general as to be inadmissible, or could not be shown to have the claimed effect.
In a separate ruling, the panel examined a dossier of 12 studies submitted by Yakult for its own strain of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus casei shirota. It found that all were inadequate to support the company's claim that its products maintained immune defenses against the common cold.
EFSA's ruling is being challenged by the industry, but if these appeals fail the companies will no longer be allowed to market the foods as aiding digestion or helping the immune system in future.
Yakult in its most recent television advert stated, "Yakult's billions of friendly bacteria help keep your gut healthy and a healthy gut helps make for better digestion and stronger natural defences."
Danone, the country's biggest manufacturer of probiotic drinks and yogurts, said none of its products were subject to yesterday's ruling as it had withdrawn its claims that Actimel and Activia boosted the immune system and aided digestive health. However, in its most recent advert, fronted by Martine McCutcheon, it said its yogurts were "good for your digestive health".
"EFSA has not yet completed its review of all probiotic products and Danone remains fully confident of the science backing its products," the Telegraph quoted the company as saying in a statement.