/ 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.


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?

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

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


“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.


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.

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.