Mentioning Symptoms or Benefits is ‘Off-Limits’ for Probiotic Companies

NOT mentioning benefits or symptoms is a tricky business when conveying messages to potential customers. How many products or services do you read about that never cite a benefit or mention a need or concern? Our guess is not many. However, this is exactly how probiotic companies have to comply with regulators.

As a science-based probiotic company, we welcome regulation and the need to provide consumers and health practitioners with decisive information so they can make informed choices. To this end, we’re pulling out all the stops to meet these requirements, as well as the guidelines set by the WHO/FAO. However, as you can imagine, regulatory restrictions present a challenge for any probiotic company until they are in a position to seek approval following evaluation studies. Moreover, the challenge is even greater for the consumer. As a potential customer, you expect to read why a product or service may appeal, or help you. When it comes to health, it’s often useful to read testimonials or case studies where people have described their experiences. These provide valuable reference points and, in many cases, detail ‘the journey’ a person has undergone towards maintaining a better state of health. However, quoting customer experiences is off-limits too, so from time to time, we receive a comment such as this…

“You make a lot of woolly claims about possible benefits of this product and how it may or may not be better than other probiotics. Why don’t you do some proper research to see if your product helps people in the way you believe it might, and if so how? Then you could make meaningful claims and back them up with evidence.” 

This is an accurate observation albeit a frustrating one for the company. Probiotics are classed as food and, to this end, must also comply with FSA (Food Standards Agency) regulations if they are marketed in the UK. In the last decade or two, scientists have come to realise the importance and role of probiotic or good bacteria in the gut – of which there are many strains. In addition, there are next generation probiotic companies currently undertaking evaluation studies. However, even if the results provide concrete evidence once the research has been concluded, companies are still not able to mention symptoms and benefits as probiotics are classed as food. Moreover, they cannot make “meaningful claims and back them up with evidence” without undergoing additional hurdles (and further investment) by submitting dossiers for approval at both UK and European levels – which all takes time.

At Symprove, we’re certainly not opposed to the regulations protecting consumers, particularly when it comes to health. In fact, we believe that efficacy is a requirement for any probiotic and should be backed-up with significant human scientific studies. We’re also aware that a probiotic product is not a panacea for poor health and, like the bacteria in our gut, has specific roles. However, we do get frustrated when we can only tell half the story. So, if you feel we’re making woolly claims, please remember we’d say a lot more if we could! In the meantime we’ve embraced these regulatory challenges and are working towards meeting all of the requirements. We have also taken the time to better explain on our website how the digestive system responds to different probiotic product formats. This builds on the video we released some time ago describing how probiotic bacteria ‘behave’ in our gut.

At the same time, we’re relying on consumer knowledge, as well as people’s desire to self-manage their health through discussions and posts on online forums. This is also supported by the upsurge of published scientific evidence – available for anyone to read on the Internet – pointing to the importance and benefits of probiotic bacteria and explaining how commensal bacteria are essential to human health.

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