Melbourne: Probiotic yoghurts and yoghurt drinks may not be as healthy as they are claimed to be - the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found that there is not enough evidence that these products have a positive effect on the immune system and digestive health.
The manufacturers of these products had been claiming that these foods could help relieve digestive irregularity and boost the immune system, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
The food industry`s probiotics sector has complained that EFSA uses excessively rigorous scientific standards, similar to those used in the pharmaceutical industry, to assess claims.
But their complaints don`t help the consumer, who simply wants to know whether probiotic food products, which range from yoghurts and yoghurt drinks to dietary supplements, are likely to benefit their health.
Probiotic expert Bob Rastall, head of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading, firmly believes probiotics are useful for health.
He stresses that probiotics are considered to be "functional foods" - products that have ingredients or components in them that can improve health or reduce disease risk in humans.
Rastall said that by increasing the population of the so-called good bacteria (probiotics), the health of the gut could be improved.
Probiotics have also been found to reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in nursing homes, and the incidence and/or severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence in some people.
"You`re not going to do yourself any harm at all by eating a probiotic yoghurt. They`re safe," he said.
However, he said that probiotics aren`t an alternative to a healthy diet.
"What I don`t want people to think is that they can eat an unhealthy diet and lead an unhealthy lifestyle and then just have a probiotic yoghurt and everything will be fine.
"Clearly, that`s nonsense - you can`t undo the damage done by an unhealthy diet with probiotics, they`re not drugs.
"A healthy diet is the starting point for everything - and probiotics are part of it," he said.
Meanwhile, Gastroenterologist Peter Whorwell of Manchester University, said the problem with probiotics is that they`re not strong, so for someone with very bad IBS, for example, they will only "scratch the surface".
But for those with less severe IBS, probiotics are probably "quite a good idea", he said.
"The good side, for me, is that they`re harmless, whereas drugs have side-effects," he added.