Is probiotics a scam?

Summary:Some of the claims made by probiotics advocates remind me of the patent medicine craze of the 19th century.

Activia yogurt packagingNo.

But the big health fad of 2008 does have scams attached to it, and some of the claims made by advocates are unproven.

Probiotics is a global movement which teaches that your health will be better if you maintain a healthy collection of bacteria in your digestive tract.

Simple and good, especially if you've just run a course of antibiotics.

But it's not a cure-all, and it doesn't just mean the way to health is to drink yogurt at your desk, although that's what brands like Activia are pushing.

Which is why some people have called out the lawyers.

The science is simple. Some bacteria can kill you, but you need others to digest food. Using good bacteria against bad appeals to anyone who has seen a Saturday morning cartoon.

The best-known old line pusher of this message is a Japanese outfit, Yakult. They have, since 1970, owned a Japanese baseball team, the Swallows.

Former Atlanta slugger Bob Horner played for them in 1987. Most Atlantans back then thought the name referred to beer.  (So apparently did Horner.) runs a blog which sings the probiotics song, where you'll learn it is sold in various forms (including protein bars) and is used, supposedly, for various things.

But some of the claims made by probiotics advocates remind me of the patent medicine craze of the 19th century. (Which isn't all bad. The craze brought us Coca-Cola, which means it built Atlanta.)

Personally I like yogurt drinks at my desk. They make me feel full, I tolerate them better than milk, I like the flavor.

But it's about wellness, not illness. Before I send a bacteria out after disease I want to know its name, precisely what it does and know its results are proven.

We're a long way from that for most probiotics claims.

Topics: Enterprise Software, CXO, Tech & Work


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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