EFSA health claim opinion

Prunes can help bowel movement after all, says EFSA in about face

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Prunes: Don't aid bowel movement...oh hang on, yes they do, finds EFSA at the second time of asking
Prunes: Don't aid bowel movement...oh hang on, yes they do, finds EFSA at the second time of asking

Related tags: Dietary fiber

The re-evaluation of studies dating back to 1991 for a rejected health claim dossier has convinced the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that prunes can aid bowel movement after all.

In 2010, EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) said there was “insufficient”​ evidence linking prunes and bowel health, but the panel has OK’d a resubmission in a rare change of opinion from its Parma base.

In the fresh review, the panel found two studies including one from 1991 (Tinker et al) demonstrated positive effects of prunes on bowel function, while others showed the benefits of prune components like sorbitol and dietary fibre.

The Tinker study that compared prunes to grape juice had been evaluated in the NDA’s 2010 rejected opinion which stated: “The Panel notes that stool consistency, stool frequency and flatulence did not differ between study periods, and that no method for symptom record was provided.”

The 2010 opinion acknowledged increases in faecal weight, but its revised opinion emphasised this while omitting references to stools and flatulence. “The Panel considers that this study shows an effect of dried plums on bowel function as indicated by increased faecal weight,” ​it wrote.

Of another intervention trial it found: “Significant changes with the dried plum intervention in some of the secondary outcome measures such as stool consistency and improved straining scores as compared to baseline are in line with the observed effect on bowel movements.”

“The Panel notes that dried plums showed an effect on bowel function similar to psyllium, for which there is evidence to support a laxative effect.”

It therefore retracted its earlier opinion that had been slammed in the European Parliament and the mainstream press for being nonsensical, and proposed the claim: “Dried plums/prunes can contribute to normal bowel function” ​if 100g were eaten per day.

The two opinions can be found here​ and here​.

Plausible mechanism of action

EU health claims expert Nigel Baldwin, director of scientific and regulatory consulting at Intertek Cantox, said the dossier had succeeded second time around because it had better demonstrated the action of prunes in the digestive system.

“There is good evidence for plausible mechanisms by which some components of prunes may contribute to the claimed effect,”​ Baldwin said.

“That is where the full dossier plus all the other details and clarifications that will have been provided will have changed their mind.”

Jennette Higgs, consultant nutritionist for the California Prune Board, which had worked on both dossiers, said: "This news affirms what we have known all along, that prunes are good for you.”

"They are an excellent healthy snack - just three make up one of your five a day, they are a good source of potassium which helps maintain normal blood pressure and they provide a natural source of fibre."

Confirming the plain obvious...

After publication of this story, Patrick Coppens, the secretary general of the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA), commented: "EFSA now indeed appears to accept the results of one study as supportive that they had discarded in the first opinion. But of course some new data have been considered also and the claim has been characterised in a more precise way, which all led to a positive opinion."

"Whether the political pressure by certain members of the European Parliament has played a role is difficult to say as EFSA has now confirmed the plain obvious. It shows that the scene is constantly changing and that some submissions in the article 13 list process had been done when the rules were non-existent and expectations unknown. Clarification has in any case worked for the prune claim. Pity not all submissions have been given this chance."

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