Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful?

Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful?
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When combined with ascorbic acid in soda, sodium benzoate can form the potent carcinogen benzene.

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And speaking of soft drink additives, the preservative sodium benzoate. Harmful, harmless, or helpful? I’d go with harmful—in part, because of a little thing called benzene. When ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate get together, they can form the potent carcinogen benzene.

The FDA and EPA—the Environmental Protection Agency—measured and reported benzene levels in about 200 brands last year. More than 60% of the beverages were contaminated, with about a third exceeding safety levels set for drinking water. What’s even more shocking is that an internal memo was discovered showing that the soda industry knew—for the last 18 years—that their products contained benzene, but they chose not to reveal this fact. In a company statement, Coca Cola responded, saying that there was “much more benzene in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and canned tuna.” But when you have to compare your food product to cigarettes, tuna, and gasoline to make it look safe by comparison, there’s probably a problem.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

And speaking of soft drink additives, the preservative sodium benzoate. Harmful, harmless, or helpful? I’d go with harmful—in part, because of a little thing called benzene. When ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate get together, they can form the potent carcinogen benzene.

The FDA and EPA—the Environmental Protection Agency—measured and reported benzene levels in about 200 brands last year. More than 60% of the beverages were contaminated, with about a third exceeding safety levels set for drinking water. What’s even more shocking is that an internal memo was discovered showing that the soda industry knew—for the last 18 years—that their products contained benzene, but they chose not to reveal this fact. In a company statement, Coca Cola responded, saying that there was “much more benzene in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and canned tuna.” But when you have to compare your food product to cigarettes, tuna, and gasoline to make it look safe by comparison, there’s probably a problem.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to kimiadasar.com

Doctor's Note

For more videos on the potent carcinogen benzene, check out:
Food Industry “Funding Effect”
Benzene in Carrot Juice

Also, see my associated blog posts: Vitamin B12: how much, how often?Is Caffeinated Tea Really Dehydrating?Soy milk: shake it up!; and Should We Avoid Titanium Dioxide?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

34 responses to “Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful?

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    1. Micheal Greger M.D. What about sodium benzoate used in Omega 3. I received a letter from the company saying that since omega 3 does not contain asorbic acid there is no danger. What if you eat vitamin c? Isn’t there a danger?




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      1. Actually we all have vitamin C in our blood – and if you don’t have it, you are in big trouble, so it’s not important what you actually take in with Sodium Benzoate, if it comes to your blood – you’ll get benzene anyway.




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  1. I can’t believe this preservative is still allowed on store shelves!!! I am glad I refused to buy products with this additive in it, but it sure is ubiquitous. I notice that the vegan cheese by daiya has titanium dioxide in it, and I’m concerned about how that might act within the body or react with other foods.




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    1. Great question! According to the World Health Organization’s IARC, there do not appear to be any problems associated with the consumption of titanium dioxide as a food additive.




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      1. Thanks for posting that! It’s a huge document, but most of the studies cited were investigating risk to the lungs – even where the titanium dioxide (TiO2) was introduced via the trachea! Also, the conclusion on p.275 is 6.1 Cancer in humans
        There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of titanium dioxide.
        6.2 Cancer in experimental animals
        There is sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of
        titanium dioxide.
        6.3 Overall evaluation
        Titanium dioxide is possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).
        However, many countries have approved TiO2 in food at levels less than 1% (India only allows it in chewing gum and a couple other foods and beverages).
        I was surprised how many animals were used in studying this additive. I think the more consumers accept additives in their foods, the more manufacturers will produce more additives (and hence, use animals to assess the safety of such additives). Also, this additive was invented in 1924, so it hasn’t been around as long as, say, baking soda. It is a highly inert substance, so is probably safe for most people if eaten in small quantities. Personally, I will try to avoid it, but I’d rather have a wee bit of daiya cheese than cow cheese based on comparative risk.




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    1. I would avoid it, if I were you. Like the sodas in the study, foods can be acidic, and your stomach acids certainly are! Thankfully, if you look hard enough, you can find soy sauce without preservatives (aside from salt, which is turning out to be more benign than previously thought).




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    2. Benzene has been used in fuels, and the American Petroleum Institute
      recognized in 1948 that “the only safe concentration of benzene is zero
      (…) all therapeutic measures have failed”. And that’s only when
      inhaled…
      As a cancer prevention professional, I would avoid like the plague anything that may turn into benzene in the body. It is an extremely potent carcinogen even at extremely low doses like 1 ppm in the air. Benzene causes leukemia (blood cancer) among other health issues, because it prevents iron from getting into the blood cells. I recommend Chapter 14 of “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” which deals with benzene quite specifically.




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  2. My ACT Restoring mouthwash contains sodium benzoate. Although i do spit out the liquid, there is still residue in my mouth which i will of course inadvertently swallow. Do you see a risk in this?




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  3. Since I have virtually lived on diet pop for my entire adult life (~26 years), what is the cumulative effect I might expect? I have tried to cut down in the past, only to be laid waste by nauseating migraines from caffeine addiction. Since I don’t care for coffee enough to want to go through all of the bother of making it, and I prefer cold drinks (since I get sweats a lot due to permanent viral guests), should I just switch to really strongly brewed green tea?




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  4. Here’s an interesting study that contradicts what you said about aspartame being the likely cause of preterm deliveries:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22854404
    Because the odds ratios aren’t much higher than 1.00, the real cause could be anything from sodium benzoate and phosphoric acid to miscalculation of confounding variables to less consumption of polyphenols.




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  5. Some cosmetics are preserved with Gluconolactone (and) Sodium Benzoate (NeoDefend). Is this a safe preservative? Does adding the gluconolactone decrease the affects of the sodium benzoate?




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  6. Please advise me what could be used as an alternative for sodium
    benzoate in making homemade fruit cordial. I have used it in the past, but
    appreciate what is now found. If there is an alternative preservative, what
    is it and where can it be purchased.




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  7. Is sulfur dioxide harmful?

    I went to the Asian market to buy goji berries there in bulk. When I got home, I noticed a warning on the package: “Under California Proposition 65: this product may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
    Besides goji berries, the only other ingredient is sulfur dioxide. Should I be concerned? How much of it would come off if I rinsed them?
    Thanks.




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  8. Dear Dr. Greger Does my preference for roasting and salting nuts, rather than leaving them raw, negate the health benefits of a handful of nuts ?




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    1. As long as you keep salt as low as possible generally in your diet it’s fine to have in a small amount of nuts.
      As for roasting, common sense would suggest that high heat damages organic nutrients, with the fat content the heat in nuts is higher than more water-full foods, so potentially more damage and unwanted by-products.
      This is not publication based directly, but based on what is generally the case for salt and high heat processing of foods.




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  9. how do i preserve aloe vera juice made at home. A store bought preservative on old bottle says sodium benzoate q.s. as preservative. how much and how do I add sodium benzoate to 1 liter of juice ? is anything else required ? poonam_njain@hotmail.com




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    1. Very good question, actually the only time I remember having seen “sodium benzoate” was on aloe vera juice.

      1) I suggest growing an organic aloe vera in your house, it does well in pots, might have to keep indoors during cold weather. That’s what I did, and just cut it fresh whenever I needed it. Works like magic on burns and itch.
      2) Some brands sell organic aloe vera products, do they use preservatives?
      3) I have also come across 1:200 aloe vera powder (200x concentrated). If powders have no preservatives, drying is a safer way to preserve among other.




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    2. The content of this webpage regarding sodium benzoate is that it should be avoided because it can react with other chemicals and produce a known cancer causing agent. So, asking for advice on how much to add is a bit like asking “how much poison” should I expose myself to. Please read the cautionary posts. For me, one can of soda containing sodium benzoate can cause sharp stomach pains and foods with potassium benzoate does not. (Do not take this as an endorsement of potassium benzoate.)




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    1. My friend ate Bumble Bee tuna and has been suffering since Jan. 3rd, 2015. His skin is burning and itching from the pyrophosphates in it. Please do not eat this non-food.




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  10. I was able to find one relevant study, Uma, regarding safety of sorbitol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6847853/
    Sorbitol intolerance: an unappreciated cause of functional gastrointestinal complaints. While the study may seem alarming, the amount in Amla and alovera juice must be considered, as it is much lower than the amounts listed in this study. Some adults have a rare intolerance of sorbitol, and if you’ve used sorbitol (in chewing gum, for example) and had a reaction, you might be cautious, but for the vast majority, the very small amount used in Amla products should not be an issue.




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