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Dangers of Sodium Benzoate

Dangers of Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate, utilized as a food additive in a variety of processed food products and drinks, is capable of reacting with added vitamin C to form benzene, which acts as a carcinogen. This Buzzle article further lays out the health dangers of this chemical preservative.
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Did You Know?
After the widespread publicity about the dangers of sodium benzoate, Coca Cola, in 2008, decided to reformulate their beverage without adding this compound.

Sodium benzoate is well-known for its antimicrobial properties; hence, it is often added in soft drinks and processed foods to lengthen their shelf life. So, when it is used as an additive, it protects food from disease-causing bacteria, yeast, and molds. This compound is naturally found in small amounts in a wide range of fruits, which is not something to worry about. However, the one that is synthesized artificially can be detrimental to health.
The Dangers
  • Although sodium benzoate helps in preventing mold growth, its interaction with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a cause for grave concern. Its reaction with vitamin C produces benzene that is notorious for causing cancer in humans. A host of studies have shown that long-term exposure to benzene can lead to bone marrow failure and leukemia (blood cancer).
  •  Also, there is a possibility that benzene levels may increase with increase in room temperature and exposure to light. So, on a hot summer day, the soft drink that is kept in your car or the processed juice placed on the store shelf might have higher benzene levels than the prescribed limits for human consumption.
  • The salad dressing packets, jams available in glass jars, fruit juices packed in tetra packs, pickles sold in small pouches, or packaged shredded cheese, all contain sodium benzoate in small amounts. So, one should not externally add vitamin C to these products in order to prevent any sort of harmful reaction.
  • Apart from its well-established carcinogenic nature, benzene can damage the liver, lungs, brain, and the heart. It is proven that benzene can alter DNA and cause mutations, eventually leading to cancer. Benzene particularly targets the mitochondria of DNA to cause damage. This benzene-induced DNA damage can also trigger the onset of neurological problems such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
  • Taking into account the fatal impact of this deadly combination, in 2006 - 2007, the FDA examined samples of various soft drinks that were sold under different brands. Four beverages that had vitamin C and sodium benzoate as their active ingredients were found to have benzene levels, much higher than the permitted range. The FDA alerted the associated brands, which later reformulated the drinks to bring down the benzene concentration to safe levels.
  • Sodium benzoate as a preservative is approved by the USFDA and credited with the 'GRAS' status. Presently, the FDA approves up to 0.1% of benzoate in foods. The FDA asserts that benzoate in moderation is not harmful. Sodium benzoate in our diet majorly comes from soft drinks. Too much consumption of soft drinks can raise benzoate levels substantially and increase health risk.
  • It has also been detected in numerous cosmetic products. So, caution has to be exercised when using cosmetics, to reduce its exposure.

Increased Hyperactivity in Children
A 2007 study published in Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, showed sodium benzoate to be a hyperactive ingredient that can cause behavioral problems in children. In this study, 3-year-old and 8- to 9-year-old children were given a diet devoid of benzoate preservatives. When they started taking a drink that was laced with a combination of sodium benzoate and color additives (dyes), children exhibited hyperactive behavior. Yet, it is not clear whether this increased hyperactivity is solely from exposure to benzoate. However, there are concerns that ADHD children exposed to sodium benzoate may show exacerbation in their symptoms.

Whether a product contains this compound or not, can be easily found out by checking the nutrition fact label. One will find sodium benzoate printed on the food label. As far as limiting exposure to this preservative is concerned, one should eat fewer packaged foods as well as reduce the consumption of soft drinks.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical professional.