Further Research

Definition of digestive comfort

 Definition of digestive comfort and Toxicity

  • According to Activia scientists, an adult in good health should experience a transit time through the body of less than 72 hours. While this number is influenced by numerous factors including age, gender, diet and lifestyle, these “scientific studies” have indicated that daily consumption of Activia has guaranteed effectiveness, and bacteria can last up to 10 days following the last ingestion. The definition of digestive comfort has been left intentionally vague by the company, meaning it is up to the consumer to fill in the blanks. While constipation and IBS are by no means a comfortable situation, neither is diarrhea or extreme regularity, and this can prove to be quite inconvenient for the everyday busy lifestyle. Activia offers no upper limit or maximal consumption before toxicity, but maintains that the effects on transit time are enhanced with increased consumption. In essence, the consumer must decide just how regular they would like to become, and promote Activia sales through continuous purchase and consumption.

 “Take the Activia 14-Day Challenge and Feel the Difference!”

  • Activia came to North American shelves in 2006 and rapidly launched their 14-day challenge; a vaguely described test to consume one pot (100g) of Activia each day for 14 days in order to “feel the difference” (16). If transit time was not increased in this window, a full refund could be guaranteed. However, the 14-day challenge requires much more than just eating this probiotic yogurt. While the challenge was open, the Activia website contained a schedule of things to during each day of the challenge. For example, on day one, besides eating a pot of Activia, the individual was required to drink 1.5 litres of water. On day 2, the individual must exercise for 30 minutes, and on day 3, eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables (16). These requirements continued for the full 14-day challenge. In another area of their website, Activia has written a whole section on the “Seven Golden Rules for Good Digestion” (17) and includes a quiz called “How Healthy is Your Digestive System?” (Table 1) There are numerous nutrition tips, and reasons why maintaining an active lifestyle is important (Table 2). Each tip is a valid piece of advice that should be integrated into a healthy lifestyle on a regular basis. For example, one tip recommends eating 25-30g of fibre each day; a piece of advice that will increase transit time without the help of probiotics. None of the tips describe the necessity of probiotics in the diet, and therefore prove the possibility of increasing transit time by living a healthy lifestyle and without the help of Activia. In the article by He et al (2008), lactose digestion was said to be improved by providing active beta-galactosidase as well as slowing down gastrointestinal transit through yogurt. Therefore, increased transit time cannot be achieved by consuming Bifidobacterium animalis alone. Additionally, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have described IBS patients feeling worse after the first week of Activia consumption, and much better after the second week. This is presumably why the company extended the challenge over two weeks (4).

 Activia’s Probiotics Craze

  • Nowadays, there is so much hype about probiotics being the newest answer to health problems. Previously, Activia claimed to be the only yogurt on the market containing probiotic bacteria (6). Recently, they have changed their claims to include their specific probiotic, Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, or B.L. Regularis. Bifidobacteria are a naturally found in the gut, but this specific strain has demonstrated the ability to “survive passage through the digestive tract” and “withstand the attacks of strong stomach acids” (5). The bifidobacterium strain was found to be resistant to gastric acidity, as well as the 90 minutes of recorded transit time as found by Berrada et al. (1991). Bifidobacterium must also be able to resist the increase in product acidity during shelf life. In these conditions, all strains of bifidobacterium are not able to make it to the intestine for intended benefits (Berrada et al. 1991). However, in a concentration of 10^8 bacteria per gram of yogurt (5), it would be surprising if none of the bacteria lived through the entire tract. Cavuela et al. (2001) found that the more bifidobacterium that was ingested, the larger the increase in transit time. The experimenters noted that the subjects in this particular experiment had to ingest the yogurt at the same time every day, two in the morning and one at lunch, in order to experience benefits.
  • In order to experience the benefits of Activia, it is recommended to consume one pot (125g) of yogurt each day for at least 14 days. This is the minimum recommended dose in order to see increases in transit time, and not surprisingly, the benefits are “more pronounced with higher consumption (2-3 pots)” (5). Many of Activia’s scientifically proven studies have demonstrated subjects eating 3 pots of yogurt each day for 7-10 days (re: 108 bacteria per gram of yogurt, and 125g of yogurt in each pot), which results in large quantities of the live bacteria in the stools (>108 cfu/g) (5). In a study by Cavuela et al. 2001, individuals who were given three servings as opposed to two servings of bifidus milk with the strain DN 173010 had a significantly reduced transit time.
  • One must wonder why the bacteria do not remain in the gut, if their responsibility is to replace the ‘bad’ gas-forming bacteria that normally reside in the gut. Additionally, there must be something foreign and undesirable about the bacteria if the human body excretes them in such large quantities; almost as much as is being ingested. There appears to be a correlation between the time of colonic movement and the quantity of bifidobacteria in the feces. With a faster colonic movement, more bifidobateria is found in the feces. Just because the bacteria are increasing transit time, does not mean they are doing it properly. Perhaps the removal of bifidobacterium animalis from the body causes a mal-absorption of nutrients at the small intestine, or acts as a laxative, excreting essential fat-soluble vitamins. Barrada et al (1991) found a significant amount of this particular bifidobacteria in the feces, and proposed that this bacteria doesn’t remain in the gut but does facilitate movement of intestinal contents.
  • There is no evidence showing that other bacteria are not also expelled, and this could threaten Activia’s advertisements to provide ‘good’ bacteria to the gut, if it is actually removing additional bacterial flora from the gut.
  • Based on evidence from its scientific studies, Activia has claimed to be “particularly effective in subjects with slow transit time. In subjects with a normal transit time, no marked change or risk of diarrhea was observed” (5). In the experiment by Cavuela et al. (2001), individuals were grouped by having a very slow transit time over forty hours or a transit time of under forty hours. Individuals with the slower transit time experienced a greater change in their transit time compared to the group under forty hours (Cavuela et al. 2001). It is expected that benefits would be much more pronounced in individuals with more severe symptoms, as compared to a control group.
  • Still, Activia concludes: “large quantities of Bifidobacteria reached the colon and could potentially modulate the functions of the endogenous colonic microflora” (5). The key word in this conclusion is ‘potentially’, and it is used because Activia knows that the benefits of probiotics have not been fully researched. While mounting evidence is beginning to point probiotics in a positive direction, very few strains demonstrate these advantages, and bifidobacterium animalis lactis certainly is not one of them. “There has not been studies confirming the benefits of probiotic cultures, and researchers emphasize that more studies are needed to even confirm any benefits (6).” One of their very own studies specifically stated that further investigations are needed to conclude the mechanism of action of bifidobacterium (Cavuela et al., 2001).
  • A review published in 2003 explains that probiotics is an expanding area of research, that has prematurely leaked into the commercial area. Unfortunately, this has lead to poor regulation of clinical effectiveness that many companies are using to their advantage (18). Additionally, a product review for Activia states that “their scientifically-backed facts aren’t legitimate studies at all – these studies were conducted by their own company and are not confirmed by any third-party sources (6).”

So, if the only thing that sets Activia apart from other commercial yogurts is its specific strain of probiotic bacteria, which has not been properly researched and is probably a huge marketing scam, why would anyone pay for an expensive yogurt with more sugar, more fat, less calcium and no vitamin D?

  • In January 2008, Danone was faced with a class-action lawsuit claiming that its own studies failed to support its advertised health claims for its products, including Activia. These studies supposedly indicated that Danone yogurt had “clinically” and “scientifically” proven benefits that other yogurts did not, and intended on charging customers 30 percent more than other equally beneficial yogurts (19). “The lawsuit also cited scientific reports showing, counter to Danone's advertising, that there was no conclusive evidence that the bacteria prevented illness or was beneficial to healthy adults — and that Danone knew this” (19).
  • In September 2009, a settlement was reached, in which Danone was required to offer refunds to affected customers who met the criteria for having suffered from their false health claims (20). Since this lawsuit, Activia’s labels have been modified to make the specific name of its probiotic more visible.

 Potential For Performance Enhancement

  • Vitamin D fortification was examined in three different products in a study by Hanson & Metzger (2010). There were three different models of each of these products created using cold-water dispersible vitamin D3; one for the control which had no vitamin D fortification, one with 100 IU of vitamin D and the last product with 250 IU of vitamin D (Hanson and Metzger 2010). Each of these products were tested over a large number of days to test the resilience of vitamin D, which was found to be stable and the amounts didn’t change over the duration of testing. Participants in the study did not notice a difference in taste of any of the three products (Hanson and Metzger 2010). This was a great indication from this research that more vitamin D could be added to yogurt without an affect to taste and would provide a huge benefit to consumers.
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