/ Health

No more misleading health claims for one prebiotic

Vitamin pills exploding

Last year we investigated health claims made by supplements and whether these claims were authorised. After we reported it to the ASA, a prebiotic powder has been told to stop making misleading health claims.

While researching for our ‘Don’t believe the hype’ investigation, I came across a prebiotic powder by Bimuno that made the claims ‘feeds good gut bacteria’ and ‘helps maintain digestive balance’ on the packaging.

The website for the product also claimed that the powder ‘increases your bifidobacteria levels, helping to maintain a healthy intestinal balance’; ‘reduces bad bacteria levels’ and ‘supports overall well-being’.

However, none of these claims were on the authorised EU register of nutrition and health claims, so we put in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

‘Helps to protect against bad bacteria’

Clasado, the company that manufactures Bimuno, had submitted evidence for four claims to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for authorisation. These were that Bimuno:

• Helps maintain a healthy gastro-intestinal (GI) function.
• Supports your natural defences.
• Helps to protect against the bad bacteria that can cause travellers diarrhoea.
• May reduce intestinal discomfort.

On the evidence submitted, none of these claims were authorised. The first three of these claims had been rejected in 2010 and the last one was still being assessed. Since then this claim has also been rejected, and yet Bimuno prebiotic powder was still making these claims on its website and on the product’s packaging.

ASA upholds our complaint

Today the ASA announced that it has upheld our complaint and also noted that Bimuno was making claims that had not even been submitted for authorisation. It instructed Clasado to remove these and other unauthorised claims from its website. Bimuno has also been instructed not to make claims that food could prevent, treat or cure disease.

Is it naïve of me to expect companies to act responsibly and not make claims that aren’t backed up? Maybe it is. That’s why we’ll continue to pull up companies that we think mislead consumers.

What do you think about dubious health claims on supplements? Oh, and if you know of any other spurious claims made on foods or supplements let us know.

Comments
Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Companies who make spurious or unsubstantiated claims should be heavily fined – it is effectively fraud. Do those who make claims that have been approved by EFSA have reference numbers that appear, or could appear on their packaging and literature?

Member
Jeff says:
5 June 2014

I notice that claims about the benefits of beauty products are now changing from the manufacturer making specific claims ,to ‘Mrs Brown has tweeted to say her skin is tighter, wrinkles disappeared,etc’
Thus removing the problem of the supplier making false / exaggerated claims

Member
gg says:
5 June 2014

It is a shame that the most that the ASA can do is to say “stop making these claims”.

They can’t impose fines, take legal action, block the company from taking out other adverts on TV or in the press, or stop retailers from selling the products with the misleading packaging.

A so-called regulator that is entirely powerless. Utterly ridiculous.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

The problem with the ASA is that it is not a regulator in the statutory sense. I believe it exists largely to protect the media and advertising industries from exposure to legal claims and as a hedge against state control of advertising standards ad practices. It does perform a public interest role and overall has been responsible and generally in tune with society’s concerns. However, it is reactive and restricted in what it can achieve.

Like Malcolm, I believe proper punishment is necessary for flagrant deception and the only way that can happen is for the police to prosecute the company. I am not sure if that has ever been done but it’s about time some sanction was exercised as manufacturers can get away with lying and misrepresentation with impunity at present.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Where health benefits for a product are claimed they should be approved BEFORE the product is put on sale. The marketing authorisation (formerly product licensing) of pharmaceuticals works well.

At present we have products being marketed on the basis of unproven health benefits for a considerable period before the ASA intervenes, and even then there is a delay before the claims must be withdrawn.

Regarding the bacteria in our gut, the NHS should be warning us that taking antibiotics can create problems by killing the beneficial bacteria, so it is best to use these medicines only when necessary.

Profile photo of Berty
Member

keep up the good work. This multi million pound health food product industry gets away with it too many times. People buy these products because of health concerns and the last thing wanted is false or unproven claims. Its just a scam.

Member
Mark says:
6 June 2014

When is Which? going to investigate the absurd claims made by astrologers in magazine and newspaper columns? The publications don’t even publish a disclaimer saying that the whole thing is pure speculation – i.e. complete rubbish preying on some very naive readers.

Member
NukeThemAll says:
14 June 2014

Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science” should be a compulsory part of the nation’s education – read it and you will see advertiser’s puffery with new insight.

Member
Mark says:
15 June 2014

Ben Goldacre has done some good work over the years (his online column for the Guardian and subsequent book) but to my mind he too readily dismisses natural cures with an impressive track record, usually because they haven’t undergone “placebo-controlled, double-blind trials”. A large number of people don’t want toxic pharmaceutical drugs in their bodies, which are often designed to target symptoms rather than causes anyway. He doesn’t question the safety of apples and oranges (which as far as I know haven’t undergone placebo-controlled, double-blind trials), so other health-giving plants (such as some herbs) which have been in use for literally centuries are not by default “quackery” that should automatically be viewed with suspicion. That’s the problem with coming from an allopathic medicine background.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Many of our pharmaceuticals have been developed from plants. In a plant or other natural source, the amount of the active chemical(s) will vary whereas in a pharmaceutical product the amount will be accurately controlled. That is important because it is generally important to have an accurate therapeutic dose and avoid consuming more than necessary.

I am strongly in favour of avoiding any sort of treatment without good reason because of the risk of upsetting the complex biochemical systems in the body. But if necessary I would go for the controlled dose offered by a pharmaceutical product.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

“He doesn’t question the safety of apples and oranges “. Like many “everyday” foods these have been around and consumed for a very long time, and stood the test. Admittedly we may not know the very long term effects of certain foods- red meat perhaps – when taken in excessive amounts. But this does not render inappropriate the precaution of scientifically testing any natural “cure” where the intake may be unusual, of abnormal quantity, or used more frequently than in normal nutrition.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

For as long as I can remember I have washed apples with washing-up liquid and hot water in the hope of removing as much pesticide and bacteria, and goodness knows what else is on the skin. I have been mocked for doing this by people who assume that detergent residues remain after washing. This is by people who don’t even rinse off the detergent after washing dishes. I don’t actually know if what I do will remove pesticides but it will certainly help remove bacteria.

Member
Mark says:
16 June 2014

“Like many “everyday” foods these have been around and consumed for a very long time, and stood the test”
That is EXACTLY my point Malcolm – certain herbs (alien to the West until relatively recently) are dismissed as “quackery” with regard to their health-giving properties, yet similarly to “apples and oranges” have been daily foods or condiments used for literally centuries in the East. Some of those targetted have stood the test .. certainly for far longer than any pharmaceutical drugs! Not irregularly, drugs are exposed as not having been tested properly in a rush to market (and shareholder profit), and trial data cherry-picked for publication while the less favourable data is suppressed. And recently we had alarm bells sounded by some of the country’s most senior doctors about Statins being touted for nearly everyone over 50 by people with, apparently, financial links to the Statin makers. All very worrying – though admittedly far beyond the scope of Which?’s reporting remit.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Mark – There is no doubt that the pharmaceutical industry has behaved very badly and statins are perhaps the best known example. Fortunately some of the problems have been exposed and hopefully the industry will be forced to clean up its act. Unfortunately the profit motive is always going to be there in the background, so the pharmaceutical industry will need to be kept under close observation. It is important to keep this in balance and realise that the industry has provided effective drugs for treatment of many conditions and helped improve the quality and length of many people’s lives.

I have severe asthma but thanks to a combination of three inhalers I can lead a reasonably normal life. The drugs I take are inexpensive, commonly used and I can easily prove to myself how effective they are by discontinuing treatment. Maybe there are natural alternatives but I have not explored this possibility and after avoiding asthma attacks and emergency admission to hospital for about 30 years, I am not keen to explore alternative treatment that may or may not be effective and is bound to have a variable amount of whatever chemicals have a beneficial effect.

GPs and pharmaceutical companies don’t have the answer for many medical conditions and it is perfectly understandable why someone should want to experiment with herbal and other traditional remedies in these circumstances. Many of these treatments are likely to be safe but watch out for things like St John’s Wort that is effective but potentially dangerous.

I am appalled by what the web has done for us. Anyone can buy prescription drugs without medical advice. There is also a huge industry selling supplements, often on the basis of phoney science or lack of understanding. We are exposing what the pharmaceutical industry has been doing wrong but I believe that we need to do the same with the supplement industry.

I urge you to take a balanced view Mark and question everything you are told. I well remember our earlier discussions when both of us were presented with some extremely biased advice by one contributor.

Member
glen says:
10 April 2015

I do not know if anyone has said this. Research shows that prebiotics help the growth of good bacteria. If the NHS promoted this a little more, then products like Bimuno wouldn’t have to explain what they are supposed to do on the pack. People would know and make an informed decision based on NHS recommendations.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Have you read what Shefalee has said in her introduction, Glen?

I have not seen any good evidence that products such as Bimuno are beneficial.

Profile photo of tatt
Member

I suggest you start by looking here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9924286

Clinical trials are expensive and beyond the reach of items out of patent without government help. Even products like xylitol, which has been shown to be effective against some strains of bacteria in trials funded by the Finnish government, don’t get into widespread use because no-one will fund large enough trials.

Member
Cazzy says:
18 May 2017

I have actually used this product myself and am disappointed that it has been withdrawn, given that it is the only thing I have found that helps my digestion at night. I was having a sachet in a cup of camomile tea before bedtime and it really eased my acid reflux and discomfort. Now I will have to spend valuable time and money trying to find something else that does the same job. Pity… although I do appreciate that false advertising is not good, this product did actually work for me.

Member
Doreen says:
18 June 2015

I would recommend anyone suffering from Ibs to try Bimuno,it’s the best thing I ever did. I can lead a normal life again.

Profile photo of tatt
Member

I agree Bimuno should have to substantiate its claims – but I also have to say that this is a brilliant product that has helped not only me but also my husband recover from digestive probems

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Perhaps we should be paying more attention to good gut bacteria and the effects of the wonder sweeteners approved by science. One has to bear in mind how recent it has been that science realised about gut bacteria and overall health.

BBC
“Conclusions
Although our study, and the one that preceded it, were both on small numbers of people, the consistent results – alongside the results found previously in mice – certainly suggest that saccharin is bad for some people, whilst we have no evidence that stevia is. The people whom saccharin tends to affect seem to be those with a specific gut bacteria composition, but there is no easy way to find out whether you are one of those people or not, so overall our advice has to be to avoid saccharin. The evidence in mice is that aspartame and sucralose may have a similar effect, but ours are the only results for stevia and they do not show a negative effect, so if you are looking for a sugar alternative then at the moment, stevia seems most likely to be the best out there. On the back of packaging it is sometimes called ‘steviol glycosides’, which are the sweet-tasting compounds in the Stevia plant.”

Member
Richard says:
26 March 2016

I really like Bimuno and include it along with real food that feeds my gut microbiota to gain health benefits. It’s a shame that the established line of thought is so sceptical of food as medicine, however, new science coming out in recent years can’t be argued with. Have a look on PubMed.

Member
l miller says:
25 May 2017

Just saw a video by Dr Gundry Heart surgeon, making similar claims saying his product never been available anywhere before, http://silenceyourcravings.com/170328AOL.php?n=aol there is the site. So tired of buying probiotics, and feeling no different, and now saying probiotics are throwing your money out the window unless you take Prebiotics first!!!

Member

What do I think? Research clearly exists that supports those statements as being true. e.g.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25449699
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18996881

For you to administratively bully a company who is telling the truth and helpfully informing consumers, instead of focusing on a market full of harmful spurious claims like we want you to, is criminally bad karma.

Good luck with that! Hope you can sleep at night (not).

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]