Summer’s here in full blast, and my kids are doing what they do all year: beg me for ice pops. Ok, fine. I pick up the package in the grocery store of our usual, no food coloring ice pops and double check the ingredients.
E211 (Sodium Benzoate) appears front and center.
Sodium Benzoate is a preservative that’s used to kill off bacteria. Unfortunately, it also switches off vital parts of the DNA (which can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s), exacerbate asthma, increase hyperactivity, and, when combined with vitamin C, cause cancer. Lovely.
Sodium Benzoate lurks in a lot of different foods (if you can call them that), but the biggest offender is soft drinks. Sodium benzoate, also known as E211, is a major ingredient in diet soft drinks. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that benzoic acid has properties similar to E211 and also creates allergy problems, hives and aggravation of asthma conditions. (1)
The American Beverage Association reports another significant problem with the preservative in drinks: Soft drinks using ascorbic acid (vitamin C) along with sodium benzoate, when slightly heated, carry the additional risk of the two ingredients combining to form a known cancer-causing compound called benzene. — Live Strong foundation, http://www.livestrong.com/article/256440-what-soft-drinks-have-sodium-benzoate-e211-in-them/
If that wasn’t enough to make you not want to eat it again, a study by Professor Peter Piper (no, I’m not kidding) of Sheffield University in England shows how sodium benzoate damages an important area of DNA in the “power station” of cells known as the mitochondria.
He told the London based Independent newspaper:
These chemicals 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. 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 ageing.
Professor Piper, whose work has been funded by a government research council, said tests conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration were out of date.
“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.”
He advised parents to think carefully about buying drinks with preservatives until the quantities in products were proved safe by new tests. “My concern is for children who are drinking large amounts,” he said. —http://www.annieappleseedproject.org/saofe2bepr.html
Other sources corroborate the link. The US’s National Institute of Health (NIH) confirms:
Although Sodium Benzoate (SB) significantly increased DNA damage, Potassium Benzoate (PB) did not cause a significant increase in DNA damage. The present results indicate that SB and PB are clastogenic, mutagenic and cytotoxic to human lymphocytes in vitro. — National Institute of Health http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21130826
Sodium Benzoate has also been linked to nerve and muscle damage in developing zebrafish. They used zebrafish for their study because zebrafish eggs are transparent and thus were easily observable (cool!)
Recent data have demonstrated that treatment with sodium benzoate (SB) leads to significant developmental defects in motor neuron axons and neuromuscular junctions in zebrafish larvae, thereby implying that SB can be neurotoxic. This study examined whether SB affects the development of dopaminergic neurons in the zebrafish brain.
The results suggest that SB exposure can cause significantly decreased survival rates of zebrafish embryos in a time- and dose-dependent manner and downregulated expression of TH and DAT in dopaminergic neurons in the zebrafish ventral diencephalon, which results in decreased locomotor activity of zebrafish larvae. This study may provide some important information for further elucidating the mechanism underlying SB-induced developmental neurotoxicity. — National Institute of Health, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19294673
Our data showed that the treatment of SB led to misalignment of muscle fibers, motor neuron innervations, excess acetyl-choline receptor cluster and defective pronephric tubes. On the basis of these observations, we suggest that sodium benzoate is able to induce neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity of zebrafish larvae. — National Institute of Health, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17644306
And again from the NIH, on ADHD:
Conclusion: These data suggest that a high intake of sodium benzoate-rich beverages may contribute to ADHD-related symptoms in college students and warrants further investigation. — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22538314
Wow. I want to ingest it already.