Photo by iateapie/Flickr CC
In what the functional food industry refers to as a "bad day at the office," the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) rejected hundreds of health claims, particularly those for probiotics. More recently, it rejected a claim that glucosamine prevents cartilege degeneration.; Hard as it may be for the food and supplement industries to believe, EFSA just can't find scientific evidence to support those claims.
A representative of the company that applied for the glucosamine claims says his company now anticipates a loss in product sales, and complains that it had "invested quite heavily in this submission, in terms of effort and financial outlay."
Why can't they come up with the science to support those claims? For one thing, who would want to do the research? Danone and Yakult have just announced two $50,000 grants to study probiotics. This won't go far and the sponsorship is an almost certain guarantee that the results will be just what the companies paid for.
Independent research is much more complicated. Consider folic acid, for example. The latest clinical trial of folic acid and colon cancer went to a lot of trouble to prove that folic acid supplements are harmless. In most people, they have no effect on colon cancer, neither benefit nor risk. Among the few people who had unusually low levels of the vitamin in their blood, the supplements appeared to have some protective effect. You can interpret results like this either as evidence for no benefit or as evidence that folic acid supplements might benefit some people under some circumstances.