Activia for Constipation? No Proof Probiotics Help, FTC Says

Containers of Activia are seen on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010, in Montpelier, Vt. Under a 39-state settlement, Dannon will change its marketing practices and pay $21 million to the Attorneys General to settle allegations that Dannon made unsubstantiated and unlawful marketing claims on its Activa and DanActive products. (AP Photo) AP Photo (no photog listed)

Dannon will change its marketing practices and pay $21 million to the Attorneys General of 39 states to settle allegations that Dannon made unsubstantiated and unlawful marketing claims on its Activa and DanActive products. (AP Photo)

(CBS/AP) Does eating Dannon's probiotic-infused Activia yogurt help keep things moving in your digestive tract?

That's the claim made on the yogurt's packaging and in commercials. Dannon also claimed probiotics are the secret to DanActive, a yogurt drink it said helps prevent colds.

It won't make those claims anymore. The Federal Trade Commission ruled there's not enough evidence to back up those statements, and now the French-based company has to pay up - big time. That means $21 million in settlements with state and federal regulators.

So what's the deal with probiotics?

Dr. Carey Strom, associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA School of Medicine, tells CBS News that although he does prescribe probiotics for irritable bowel syndrome, bloating and diarrhea, he is not aware of any evidence that shows probiotics help with standard-issue constipation.

"There have been no good, double-blind studies to show they are absolutely beneficial," says Strom, "but patients seem to get some benefits, some relief, from certain gastrointestinal problems. They can't hurt and they may help."

Dannon used to say otherwise. The probiotic added to Activia is called Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173 010, which Dannon trademarked and markets as Bifidus regularis.

That's the key to the magic of Activia, which, Dannon claimed, is "scientifically proven to help with slow intestinal transit when eaten daily for two weeks as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle." In other words, it makes food move more quickly through the digestive tract.

To back up these claims, the company used data from studies it helped fund. Often these studies were conducted at its research facility in France, according to a Johns Hopkins report.

"Millions of people firmly believe in, benefit from and enjoy these products, and Dannon will continue to research, educate and communicate about the benefits of probiotics on the digestive and immune systems," Dannon said in a statement.

That's not good enough for the FTC. "Consumers want, and are entitled to accurate information when it comes to their health," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "Companies like Dannon shouldn't exaggerate the strength of scientific support for their products."


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