In May, a new scare, one of many current health care issues in the news, erupted over soft drinks because of evidence that an ingredient known as sodium benzoate may cause serious cell damage. The controversy was based on research from a British university suggesting that this common preservative found in soft drinks like Fanta and Pepsi Max has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA.
Interestingly, this has been known for some time. According to Vision.org life and health writer, Alice Abler, in a current science article about the preservative much of the same information was published eight years ago in Free Radical Biology and Medicine (December 1999) by University of Sheffield professor Peter Piper.
Consumers who are worried by this health care issue should be reassured that sodium benzoate is quickly absorbed into the human gastrointestinal tract and metabolized, resulting in hip uric acid, which is soon excreted. Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate are not considered carcinogenic and are often added to certain acidic foods to slow the growth of molds and fungi. However they can combine with ascorbic acid in beverages to turn sodium benzoate into a very toxic substance: benzene.
In mid-May 2007, beverage giant Coca-Cola settled a lawsuit alleging that sodium benzoate could combine with the ascorbic acid in the beverages to create carcinogenic benzene. After Coca-Cola and PepsiCo removed the ascorbic acid known as vitamin C from beverages, both companies maintain that their products are safe for human consumption.
Benzene is also often found in drinking water, although U.S. government standards allow no more than five parts per billion of benzene in drinking water, and the World Health Organization recommends no more than ten parts per billion.
Benzoate is naturally present in fruit and some other foods--perhaps in just the amount that is safe for the human body. Concerned consumers should pick foods and beverages as close to their original form as possible, avoiding any possible health care issues.
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Earth Focus Episode 41 - Biodiversity and Health