Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sodium Benzoate: The Next Great Health Threat?

After blogging in December 2006 about an ongoing cover-up since 1990 by the Food & Drug Administration over cancer-causing amounts of benzene found in some popular soft drinks, now this Belfast Telegraph story highlights a new UK study on sodium benzoate causing damage to DNA bringing that whole controversy back into the limelight again.

Lead researcher Peter W. Piper, professor of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield, wanted to know what impact a food additive known as E211--the scientific name for the common preservative sodium benzoate used in most soft drinks to prevent molding--has on cells in the body. The cancer connection has already been established when benzene is mixed with vitamin C.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is the British version of the FDA, has already removed four brands of soft drinks from store shelves last year for having excessively high levels of benzene. Piper says the concern is worse than first believed.

In a test conducted on living yeast cells in his lab, the sodium benzoate in the soft drinks sampled actually caused damage to the mitochondria--the important "power station" in DNA.

"These chemicals [in the soft drinks] have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether," Piper exclaimed.

Yikes! Is this really as fatalistic as he's making it out to be?

Piper continued: "The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it--as happens in a number of diseased states--then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to damage to this DNA--Parkinson's and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of aging."

Okay, so let me get this straight. Sodium benzoate found in many soft drinks and various food products has been found to damage the mitochondria in DNA which then leads to new brain diseases and premature aging. You got all that? Are you buying it? This blogger sure isn't!

Of course, the soft drink manufacturers point to their trust in the approval of sodium benzoate by the Food Standards Agency as their evidence of the safety of this ingredient. However, like the FDA here in the United States, can we REALLY trust that information? The European Union doesn't think so as evidenced by their emergency investigation into Piper's claims.

A representative from that group said they now need to reevaluate the long-term consequences of consuming sodium benzoate since the findings by the World Health Organization in 2000 which found it was safe are likely outdated.

Additionally, Piper said the FDA-approval of benzene needs updating.

"The food industry will say these compounds have been tested and they are complete safe," he said. "By the criteria of modern safety testing, the safety tests were inadequate. Like all things, safety testing moves forward and you can conduct a much more rigorous safety test than you could 50 years ago."

Hmmm. This is the same corrupt FDA which refuses to admit they were wrong about the high-carb, low-fat diet being a healthy nutritional approach despite the lack of long-term studies to back that claim up. And let's not forget about their role in the current scandal over the diabetes drug Avandia! What makes Piper think the FDA is gonna start a fact-finding mission on sodium benzoate now?

As you know, I love my Diet Coke with Splenda and I notice it does not contain sodium benzoate, but rather potassium benzoate (aka E212). There was nothing in Piper's study about this similar preservative, so the jury is still out about it. I'm not gonna stop drinking it just yet.

Piper says he hopes parents are cautious about allowing their children to be "drinking large amounts" of sodas sweetened with sodium benzoate. Which ones would that be? Diet Orange Crush, Vault Zero, Fanta Pineapple, Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and the new Diet Pepsi Max, among others. The Coca-Cola Company has already settled their lawsuits by agreeing to change the formulations of their beverages containing sodium benzoate.

PepsiCo still has legal action pending against it and a U.S. District judge denied a motion to dismiss filed by the defendants in the case despite the fact that they have already reformulated the offensive products. Stay tuned for more information about these lawsuits.

You can e-mail Professor Peter Piper about this study at

Read more information about the soft drink/benzene connection in this excellent blog post about it as well as the Wikipedia page on this topic. What say YOU about this controversy?

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Blogger Amy Dungan said...

Wow.. if this is true, it's scary! My Diet Rite also says potassium benzoate, instead of sodium benzoate. I may be sure to avoid the drinks you've mentioned, and not allow my children to have them either, until I hear more about this.

5/29/2007 10:26 PM  
Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your interesting story!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related post interesting to you:
Longevity Science: Soft Drinks Linked to Aging ?

5/29/2007 11:49 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS for your expert comments about this, Dr. Gavrilov. I'm naturally skeptical about everything regarding diet and health nowadays, so I'm happy to see your perspective. Like I said in my post, I'm not worried about this sodium benzoate "scare."

5/30/2007 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alrighty, then! I am enjoying my morning Diet Coke, reading your article and trying desperately not to choke! :)

I noticed that my Diet Coke has Potassium Benzoate...huh? Does this mean that I can count my Diet Coke as "potassium" in my diet?
Just kidding! :)

5/30/2007 10:47 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

HA! I thought the same thing, Kelly! Potassium certainly helps with those nasty leg cramps that you get on a low-carb diet! LOL!

This whole "crisis" is just something else to worry the public with. The main culprits are mostly obscure drinks which may or may not be harmful.

I'm all for more tests being done, but they should investigate more before they go freakin' everybody out. I'll be watching what these tests find.

5/30/2007 10:55 AM  
Blogger Lisa E said...

Jimmy, since sodium benzoate is a preservative used to prevent mold. It is not surprising it would break down the DNA in yeast. Not really buying it.

5/30/2007 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you mention loving your splenda filled cola-havent you read anything on how the chem make of splenda is same as insecticdes like chlordane (termite chem banned 20 yrs ago because it never breaks down in the environment) Remember insecticides work as nerve agents. SO when found in a school they rip out the wall material it was sprayed on like it was abestos.

Splenda involves having one of the carbon atoms in the sugar having 3 of its hydrogens replaced by chlorides. This is what makes it like chlordane (notice the chlor in the name). What makes this scary for ingestion is that the choride atoms want an extra electron BADLY to get a complete outer shell of 8 electrons. Only fluoride desires an electron more.

The need for an extra electron is what make free radicals damaging to our bodies. Splenda has 3 of em on one end of its sugar chain.

8/19/2008 9:08 PM  

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