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The Perils of Probiotics - Understanding the Health Implications of Probiotic Yogurts

Probiotic yogurts from Japan

As someone who spends far too long sitting in front of a TV, I get more than my fair share of extended advert breaks - so long in fact that I forget what I was watching before they came on. Muscled in amongst the shiny new cars and mobile phones are invariably ads for yogurts and drinks that make all kinds of dubious claims about how they help digestion. They cite scientific studies and use long latin names to describe how your body cannot do without their nicely packaged tubs of yogurt. I take these with a pinch of salt but I have come to realise others do not. In fact, there is a worrying trend of people consuming these products in the belief that they have major health benefits.

Controversies in Probiotic Yogurt Advertising

Some companies like Danone have been the subject of numerous Advertising Standards breaches in the UK, the US and the European Food Safety Authority for unsubstantiated claims and subsequent ban on their ads. A television advert in 2009 for the probiotic yogurt drink Actimel was banned in the UK for suggesting it protects children against falling ill and Danone had to spend $35million dollars offering refunds to customers who were allegedly misled by the labelling of a similar probiotic drink.

Potential Health Benefits of Probiotic Yogurts

So in light of all the hot air about these drinks,what if any benefits can you get from this vamped up yoghurt?

Traditional Oriental Medicine categorises food according to taste and temperature and yogurt, like most dairy products, comes firmly in the cold and sweet/sour food section. This means that when it enters the stomach, it has a cooling action not only on the stomach but on the body as a whole. The sweet and sour combination makes yogurt slower to digest as the stomach has to work harder. This often means that there is a build-up of excess of moisture which has to be stored in the body – this could be in the form of fat and fluid retention and with symptoms like bloating and nausea etc.

For some of us this combination of sweet/sour and cold can be good. When the balance in the body swings too much towards heat and dryness or when there is a pattern of heat or inflammation in your stomach caused by too many heating foods or the consequences of too much stress on your system. Eating yogurt might be beneficial in reducing heat and replenishing body fluids.

Possible Negative Effects of Regular Probiotic Yogurt Consumption

For others, far from helping digestion, regular consumption of these drinks can actually make it a whole lot worse. For anyone with a ‘weak’ stomach or an imbalance the other way with cold conditions especially when these cold conditions are in the stomach and intestines, the last thing they need is more cold, wet foods. These foods can slow down digestion, add to the coldness and cause pain due to the contraction of muscles and tendons. Some patterns of IBS for example are caused by cold and yogurt can exacerbate this.

So be cautious and use a little common sense with these yogurt drinks. Remember that the multinational companies that create them are more interested in a tidy profit than your long-term health.

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