Dannon Probiotics: Does Activia “Regulate Your Digestive System” And DanActive “Strengthen Your Body’s Defense”?

by FitnessMantra on February 1, 2008

[Update: 20-Sep-2009: Dannon has settled the false-advertising lawsuit I wrote about in Feb 2008. Of course, they have denied all claims and have admitted no wrongdoing. The good news is that once the settlement is approved, consumers who purchased their yogurt will be eligible for a $100 rebate depending on how much they purchased. Vindication? Should they do more? Was it the consumers' fault to believe their claims in the first place? Sound off in the comments!]

There was a time (not too long ago) when the only choice you had to make at the Yogurt aisle was “Plain or Flavored?”. Today you are accosted by easily more than 20 varieties including frozen yogurt, live-and-active-cultures-yogurt and even yogurt with fruit on the bottom.

In early 2006 Dannon came up with a brand new type: Probiotics-enhanced Activia yogurt that is supposed to regulate your digestive system and followed it up a year later with their DanActive “dairy-drink” that would strengthen your body’s defense.

Then Dannon was sued:

A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles claims the Dannon Co. Inc., owner of the world’s best-selling yogurt brand, bamboozled tens of thousands of customers into paying extra for Activia and other yogurts falsely touted as offering special nutritional benefits. [ABC News]

What are Probiotics anyway?Activia yogurt According to Dannon’s own website, “Probiotics are living microorganisms, usually lactic acid bacteria, that when consumed in sufficient numbers can provide health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition”. In other words, it’s a form of live-and-active-culture called “Bifidus Regularis” that is added to the yogurt with certain characteristics that are supposed to make it extra-beneficial: safe to eat, high shelf-life and presence n enough quantity to be of help.

But what quantities of these cultures are “enough” and what real benefits do they confer?

…medical experts disagree over what the right amounts are and what kind of benefits they could have, according to Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, an assistant professor of medicine at New York University.
“Probiotic bacteria have only been proven to help with very specific disorders,” she says. “Probiotics is an exciting field, but it is too early to make … general claims like ‘regulates your digestive system.’ That doesn’t mean anything in medical terms.”

So, while it’s probably true that more of the bacteria in this product survive the stomach acids and reach your colon than from regular yogurt (Consumer Reports article), the question is what real effect these bacteria have and is the extra cost worth it? Also note this from Triathlete:
“If you stop eating it, the bacteria levels rapidly return to their normal levels”. (All those opposed to this lifetime commitment speak now or forever just try to be fit!)

DanActiveAnd what about DanActive’s claim that it strengthens your body’s defenses? Again, there is no conclusive proof that this is true and in fact according to the ABC News article, a Dannon-funded study itself concurred with this lack of evidence:

…a report issued last year by the American Academy of Microbiology, a report that Dannon helped fund, says, “To date, there is no conclusive evidence that altering the microbiota of a healthy human adult is beneficial.” The report goes on to say that “the efficacy … of probiotic treatments has yet to be determined.”

Now Dannon has a website for everything so there’s one for Activia, one for DanActive, then there’s the Probiotics Center and – surprise! – even one for their “Two Week Challenge” (everyone does these by the way, because apparently consumers just love a good challenge!) But even a cursory glance of these websites (which, by the way are loaded with way more technical information than the average consumer can – or would even care to – understand), brings up so many of the “usual suspects” keywords that their claims begin to sound more and more shaky:

  • Activia with Bifidus Regularis is scientifically proven to help with slow intestinal transit when eaten daily for two weeks, as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. [Activia Site]
  • Taken every day, DanActive can help strengthen your body’s defenses. [DanActive Site]
  • DanActive is believed to have a positive effect on the balance of your intestinal bacteria. [DanActive Site]

As a consumer, it’s in your best interest to look out for catch-phrases like those highlighted above – for these are the exact phrases companies can later use to wriggle out of taking any responsibility for tall claims. Now, don’t get me wrong – the benefits of active cultures may well be true and present, but claiming conclusive results on as yet unsubstantiated research is certainly not in the best interest of millions of consumers.

Just for kicks (well, not really – I do this for all products), I checked the nutrition and ingredient information for Activia Strawberry Yogurt. Well what do you know? Fructose Syrup, Sugar and modified corn starch must make for some yummy yogurt … with 17g of sugar!

If you haven’t already, read my earlier post from last summer about the Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie yogurt. In that ad, Yoplait claimed that eating yogurt would help you lose weight as long as it was part of a sensible diet and active life. Do you see the pattern? Eat Cheerios, lower cholesterol when eaten as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Eat Special K and lose weight when eaten as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Wait a minute, should we all just skip the extraneous stuff and just eat sensibly and be more active?

Well, I certainly think so!

Yes, we live in a world of high-stress with kids, commutes, pollution and more demands on our time than we can think we can handle. Maybe, just maybe, we can solve this by preventing the causes of this stress rather than rushing out to get the next big (unproven) cure.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith February 2, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Anyone who believes Dannon’s claims…I have a bridge to sell ya! ;)

A friend of mine was all into Dannon’s probiotic stuff, but when I saw how much sugar they pump into it. ICK! Stick with plain yogurt and a sensible diet – can’t go wrong there.

It’s clearly evident that the FDA and other governmental organizations are not proactive (pardon the pun!) enough in protecting consumers from these bogus claims.

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l August 14, 2008 at 9:14 pm

My Mom had surgery for a tumor last October.She contracted an infection in her colon from the hospital’s overuse of antibiotics. Nothing seemed to help. I found Stonyfield Farms yogurt which has 2 strains of probiotics that are more than starter cultures. Lcasei is one of those cultures. She mixes it with Activia (for better taste). And just today I told her about Danactive. The Stonyfield Farms has helped her where the Drs. couldn’t. She still has some bloodwork to go, but she has gained the much needed weight that she’d lost and feels much much better. We were worried that she was losing the battle of long term infection. We have God’s nutrition found in those probiotics. And no, I don’t want to buy a bridge, but would suggest to the commenter to not be so quick to judge without knowledge or experience. I’m not big on buying brand names, but I do know firsthand what Stonyfield Farms yogurt did for my Mom. I believe it saved her life.

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mary September 24, 2008 at 1:14 pm

I would like to know what the connection might be between indigestion-overproduction of acid-probiotics. It seems logical to me than indigestion leads to increased acid production that would be reduced if digestion were enhanced through use of probiotics. Someone mentioned Greek yogurt, and I’d like to find that because it is so exceptional gastronomically. Does the Activia have to have so much sugar? Could they not make a version that is sugarless? (That is, no sweeteners other than fruit). To the Brooklyn Bridge argument, I’m pretty sure there is solid science behind the probiotic theory, and I’m not referring to industry studies.

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Anonymous April 4, 2009 at 8:38 am

Sorry about the late post, but I just stumbled upon this.

I had an laparotomy after my appendix ruptured a few weeks ago. I spent the next week without food and was placed on an IV for my nutrition while they got rid of the infection it caused.

When they finally let me have solid food again, I spent the next two or three days hovering over a bucket and hobbling to the bathroom every commercial break. I called about this and the doctor explained that the medications that they had put me on had killed all of the bacteria in my digestive track, including the good bacteria that helps with digestive regulation. I was told to eat two Activia yogurt’s a day and take a probiotic supplement called Lactinex. Within a few hours I was much, much better.

That to me is solid proof that probiotic cultues do aid in regulating the digestive track.

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Anonymous May 1, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I belive in it because I had pains everyday and no dr. could help I tried the Activia and the pains are gone I can wakeup painfree before eating it i would wake up in so much pain and was gaining weight and had no Idea why. Now my tummy doesn’t hurt and the unknow weight gain has stopped.

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Moko June 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

The Activia does keep my son “regular” as long as he eats one per day. Never a fan of the corn syrup we switched to Stonyfield Farms Organic when they came up with a probiotic version, but it isn’t as effective. Then I discovered that Activia’s yogurt drink does not have the corn syrup, so I buy that now. It still has more sugar than I’d like, but it’s his daily “treat.” And, yes, we only eat whole grains and although I shove all the berries, apples and veggies I can into the kid, he still has constipation issues. But Activia has made a huge difference for him. I guess you can put me down for one bridge.

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Lisette Arana Ocampo October 5, 2009 at 11:34 pm

I just got in with this post and it attracts my attention and read it on. Anyway, does this product fits to all ages and gender? I might try some for me and my husband and for my teens also. Thanks for the post.

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lisa September 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm

the best way to take probiotics (preferably in the capsule) is on an EMPTY stomach in the morning before food! especially people who have depleted their good bacteria after taking a course of anti biotics some people go for years not knowing what is causing their symptoms read The Yeast Connection if it is still in print hopefully…a life changing read… Danon is a big commercial corporate behemoth like Coca Cola and they always have to ruin a potentially good product with HFCorn Syrup and what the heck fructose is and a 17 grmans of sugar content better to eat Greek plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with some good manuka honey and raw cinnamon spice fruit etc… Activia is a sugar bomb the very thing yeast lives on SUGAR!!! One must limit sugar while trying to get their probiotics to balance their digestive system.. The key is to take these on an empty stomach with water and buy the very best probiotic you can find in the health food store. dont be surprised if you feel worse for a time as “die off” begins of the yeast organisms must read the book The Yeast Connection…

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Louis M. Smith December 21, 2010 at 11:22 pm

What can I say, I have a bowal problem and it is hard for me to have movements. So I started taking Activia and it seems to help. Maybe mind over mater… I have a lady friend with some of the same problems and she swears by it. I read a web page article that Dannon has to stop advertising the regutarity part of their advertisment. As you pointed out, there is not enough proff of its clams.

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Andi June 16, 2011 at 10:33 am

After dozens of years of extreme constipation (maybe once a week if i’m lucky!) and a consistently very healthy diet (low fat, high fiber, lots of fresh fruits, raw veggies, lots of water etc), plenty of exercise, and a sympathetic GP who tried numerous remedies, my mother told me about Activia yogurt and I decided to try it…what harm could it do right? I like yogurt, the calcium is good for my 40+ year old bones, and for some reason my lactose intolerant digestive system does not reject it.

Halleluja…….since I first tried Activia and have been eating one Activia Yogurt a day for the last 18 months or so…..once a week has become once a day, every day, and I feel better than I have since I was a teenager. My 15 year old daughter also has the same tendencies to extreme constipation, with the same diet rich in raw fruits and veggies, low fat and lots of water, she now eats one Activia yogurt per day, and is a much more comfortable and happier teenager.

Activia gets a BIG THUMBS UP from our family!!

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hazel March 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

i have suffered with bloating abdominal pain and constipation for years an actimel has totally changed my life no more pain and i feel so much better may be sweet qnd not scientific but it works for me thank god

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