By Dr. Mercola
If you live in the U.S. and drink Mountain Dew and some other citrus-flavored sodas, then you are also getting a dose of a synthetic chemical called brominated vegetable oil (BVO).
BVO was first patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant.
The chemical is banned in food throughout Europe and Japan.
But BVO has been added to about 10 percent of sodas in North America for decades, even though it has resulted in soda-drinkers needing medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders -- all symptoms of overexposure to bromine.
Studies suggest that BVO can build up in human tissues, and animal studies have found it causes reproductive and behavioral problems in large doses.
According to Scientific American:
"Reports from an industry group helped the U.S. Food and Drug Administration establish in 1977 what it considers a safe limit for BVO in sodas.
But some scientists say that limit is based on data that is thin and several decades old, and they insist that the chemical deserves a fresh look ...
With natural alternatives already in use in other countries, why not switch in North America too?"
What is Brominated Vegetable Oil, and Why is it Used in Soda?
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is vegetable oil, derived from corn or soy, bonded with the element bromine. It's added as an emulsifier, to prevent the flavoring from separating and floating to the surface. The FDA limits the amount of BVO allowed in fruit-flavored beverages to 15 parts per million.
Bromines are common endocrine disruptors, and are part of the halide family, a group of elements that includes fluorine, chlorine and iodine. What makes it so dangerous is that it competes for the same receptors that are used to capture iodine. If you are exposed to a lot of bromine, your body will not hold on to the iodine that it needs. And iodine affects every tissue in your body, not just your thyroid.
Are You Consuming Sodas Laced with BVO?
According to the featured article, Coca-Cola and Pepsi do not contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), but the following citrus-flavored sodas and energy drinks, sold in the US, do:
| Mountain Dew
|| Fanta Orange
| Sunkist Pineapple
|| Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange, and Powerade Strawberry Lemonade
|| Fresca Original Citrus
This is not a complete list however. All in all, about 10 percent of all sodas sold in the U.S. contain BVO, so it pays to read the list of ingredients. Better yet, make a concerted effort to eliminate soda from your diet altogether. With or without BVO, sodas contain so many ingredients harmful to your health—high fructose corn syrup being one of the foremost culprits—that they really have no redeeming value whatsoever.
And please do not make the mistake of switching from regular soda to diet, as artificial sweetened drinks may be the worse of two evils. Also beware of drinks containing sodium benzoate, and Yellow Dye #5. The latter is also known as tartrazine, and has been banned in Norway, Austria and Germany due to its ill health effects.
Unfortunately, according to a 2010 study by the National Cancer Institute, sodas are still the number one source of calories for teenagers between the ages of 14 to 18. Among adults, sodas and other sugary drinks are the fourth largest source of calories, according to the latest dietary statistics from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There's no doubt that this kind of excessive soda consumption ravages your body and robs you of good health... I believe one of the fastest ways to make a profound change in your health- and weight status is to dramatically reduce or eliminate soda from your diet, regardless of which type or brand you drink.
Other Common Sources of Bromine
Bromine can also be found in a number of products, including:
|Pesticides (specifically methyl bromide, used mainly on strawberries, predominantly in California)
||Bakery goods and some flours often contain a "dough conditioner" called potassium bromate
||Medications such as Atrovent Inhaler, Atrovent Nasal Spray, Pro-Banthine (for ulcers), and anesthesia agents
|Plastics, like those used to make computers
||Fire retardants (common one is polybromo diphenyl ethers or PBDEs) used in fabrics, carpets, upholstery, and mattresses
||Bromine-based hot tub and swimming pool treatments
Health Risks of Bromine
As mentioned, when you ingest or absorb bromine, it displaces iodine. The resulting iodine deficiency can in turn lead to an increased risk for cancer of the breast, thyroid gland, ovary and prostate -- cancers that we see at alarmingly high rates today. This phenomenon is significant enough to have been given its own name: the Bromide Dominance Theory.
Bromine is also toxic in and of itself. It can accumulate in your tissues, central nervous system, and breast milk, resulting in a number of health problems. One 1971 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that:
"These findings, in conjunction with previous animal studies and with the geographical differences in the use of brominated vegetable oils as food additives, suggest that the high bromine levels found in the fat of tissues from UK children are due to the use of these compounds."
One 1983 animal study also found that rats receiving one percent BVO in their feed suffered impaired fertility, and at two percent, they became completely infertile.
Bromine is known to act as a central nervous system depressant, and can trigger a number of psychological symptoms such as acute paranoia and other psychotic symptoms. In fact, in an audio interview, physician Jorge Flechas reported that, between 1920 and 1960, at least 20 percent of all hospital admissions for "acute paranoid schizophrenia" were a result of ingesting bromine-containing products. In addition to psychiatric problems, bromine toxicity can manifest as:
- Skin rashes and severe acne
- Loss of appetite and abdominal pain
- Metallic taste
- Cardiac arrhythmias
Scientific American cites two case studies of bromine toxicity in humans:
"In 1997, emergency room doctors at University of California, Davis reported a patient with severe bromine intoxication from drinking two to four liters of orange soda every day. He developed headaches, fatigue, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination) and memory loss. In a 2003 case reported in Ohio, a 63-year-old man developed ulcers on his swollen hands after drinking eight liters of Red Rudy Squirt every day for several months. The man was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure. The patient quit drinking the brominated soft drink and months later recovered."
Bromine's Effect on Your Thyroid
Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function. Without iodine, your thyroid gland would be completely unable to produce thyroid hormone. Even the names of the different forms of thyroid hormone reflect the number of iodine molecules attached -- T4 has four attached iodine molecules, and T3 (the biologically active form of the hormone) has three--showing what an important part iodine plays in thyroid biochemistry. Hypothyroidism is far more prevalent than once thought in the U.S.
The latest estimates are that 13 million Americans have hypothyroidism, but the actual numbers are probably higher. Some experts claim that 10 to 40 percent of Americans have suboptimal thyroid function.
But many of these folks may actually have nothing wrong with their thyroid gland at all. They may just be suffering from iodine deficiency, brought on by too little iodine-containing foods and/or too much exposure to bromine—whether in the form of bromine-laced foods and drinks, or from some other source—which end up blocking iodine uptake…
For more in-depth information about bromine's impact on your thyroid health, please see this previous article.
Ditch the Soda to Dramatically Improve Your Health
In the featured article, Walter Vetter, a food chemist at Germany's University of Hohenheim, suggests American soda makers could easily replace BVO with something far safer, such as hydrocolloids, which are used in many sodas sold in Europe.
"They are almost exclusively natural products," Vetter says.
The reason for soda makers' unwillingness to swap out the offending ingredient for their American customers is unclear, but considering the fact that many of these sodas are already sold overseas without BVO in them, one can only surmise that their unwillingness to change has to do with cost…
Personally, I strongly recommend ditching all sodas, regardless of where you live or what particular additives are included, as the primary health hazard of soda consumption is tied to the excessive amounts of fructose you're ingesting. Quite simply, it's a leading contributor to the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases facing Americans. Just one can of soda per day can add as much as 15 pounds to your weight over the course of a single year, not to mention increase your risk of diabetes by 85 percent!
There's really no shortage of research showing the profound impact of soda consumption on your health. For example:
- Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children's Hospital did a study of the effects of sugar-sweetened drinks on obesity in children. He found that for each additional serving of a sugar-sweetened drink, both body mass index and odds of obesity increased.
- The Fizzy Drink Study in Christchurch, England explored the effects on obesity when soda machines were removed from schools for one year. In the schools where the machines were removed, obesity stayed constant. In the schools where soda machines remained, obesity rates continued to rise.
- In a 2009 study, 16 volunteers were fed a controlled diet including high levels of fructose. Ten weeks later, the volunteers had produced new fat cells around their hearts, livers and other digestive organs. They also showed signs of food-processing abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease. A second group of volunteers who were fed a similar diet, but with glucose replacing fructose, did not have these problems.
Weaning yourself and your kids off the sweet stuff, and replacing it with clean, pure water can be one of the most profoundly beneficial changes you'll ever make.