Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Agree to Remove Flame Retardant Chemical from Their Products

soda brominated vegetable oil

Story at-a-glance -

  • Bowing to public pressure, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have both agreed to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from all of their beverages in the near future
  • BVO, first patented as a flame retardant, contains bromine, which has been found accumulating in people’s bodies and in women’s breast milk
  • Bromine is a toxic endocrine disruptor that can damage your thyroid and lead to cancer, infertility, schizophrenia, and many other serious diseases
  • BVO is banned across Europe and Japan, but in the US is still permitted under “interim” status, pending safety studies—for the last 44 years!
  • FDA says studying BVO is not a priority for them at this time because it’s “not a public health risk” and shares interim status with saccharin, mannitol, and acrylonitrile

By Dr. Mercola

Bowing to public pressure, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have both agreed to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from all of their beverages in the near future. BVO was first patented as a flame retardant, but has also been added to many American sodas for decades.

The problem is recent research shows that bromine builds up in your body, and in breast milk.

BVO has resulted in some soda-drinkers requiring medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss, and nerve problems related to bromine overexposure, which is why Europe and Japan have banned this chemical from their food and beverages.

Public pressure to remove BVO was suddenly fueled by a 2012 petition with more than 20,000 supporters, initiated by then-15-year-old girl Sarah Kavanagh who wanted chemicals removed from sports drinks like Gatorade.1

This is a great reminder about what a powerful force consumer pressure can be. If a 15-year-old girl can push through a petition with this much consequence, consider what YOU can do by voting with your pocket book, each and every day!

Out with BVO—In with Franken-Rosins

Coca-Cola vowed to remove BVO from its drinks by the end of 2014, but at present, it still appears to be included in some of Coca-Cola's products,2 specifically Fanta Orange, Fanta Orange Zero, and Fresca Original Citrus.

PepsiCo removed BVO from Gatorade in 2013 and, following Coco-Cola's May 5, 2014 announcement, said it would be dropping the chemical from the rest of its products, although it did not give a time frame.3

Coca-Cola says they add BVO to improve the stability of soft drinks, especially those with citrus flavorings. According to the San Diego Reader, "Without BVO, your favorite lemony-limy soda would look like the Gulf of Alaska in the wake of the Exxon-Valdez.4

Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies deny that their decisions to remove BVO are in any way health-related. Coca-Cola says it plans to replace BVO with sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and glycerol ester of rosin (GEGR and GEWR).

The safety of these additives is debatable, as very few studies exist. Gum rosins received a negative safety rating by the European Food Safety Authority.5 Meanwhile, Germany and other countries have found safer, more natural substitutes for BVO.

For example, food chemist Walter Vetter at Germany's University of Hohenheim suggests American soda makers could easily replace BVO with hydrocolloids, which are used in many European sodas. Hydrocolloids are natural agents that achieve similar results, minus the health risks.6

It isn't clear why American beverage manufacturers are unwilling to swap out BVO for something like a hydrocolloid, but I would guess that their unwillingness to change most likely has something to do the cost.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Are Not the Only Beverage Companies Adding BVO

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is vegetable oil, derived from corn or soy and bonded with the element bromine. It's added to beverages as an emulsifier, to prevent the flavorings from separating and floating to the surface.

According to Scientific American,7 the numerous bromine atoms in BVO weigh down the citrus flavoring so that it mixes with sugar water, or in the case of flame retardants, slows down chemical reactions that cause a fire (the effectiveness of which is debatable, by the way).

Brominated flame retardants have lately undergone intense scrutiny, because research has shown that they are building up in people's bodies, including women's breast milk, around the world.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi aren't the only beverages that contain this potentially hazardous ingredient, though.BVO is added to about 10 percent of all sodas sold in the US, as well as many energy and sports drinks and fruit drinks, including but not limited to the following brands:8,9

Diet Mountain Dew Mountain Dew Fanta Orange
Sunkist Pineapple Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange Fresca Original Citrus
Powerade Fruit Punch and Strawberry Lemonade Fresca Original Citrus Crush Orange Soda
Safeway Grapefruit Diet Soda
Diet Sundrop Squirt
Many Amp Energy Drinks Great Value Sports Drinks Wegmans Fruit Punch
Safeway Tom Collins Mix    

Beyond Soda, There Are Several Other Sources of Bromine

BVO is not the only source of bromine exposure you should be concerned about. You can be exposed to other forms from a variety of sources and products, from brominated flour to your asthma medication:

Pesticides(specifically methyl bromide, used mainly on strawberries, predominantly in California) Baked goods and flour: potassium bromate is added to many as a "dough conditioner"10,11 Drugs such as Atrovent Inhaler, Atrovent Nasal Spray, Pro-Banthine (for ulcers), and anesthesia agents
Plastics, like those used to make computers and some polyethylene beverage bottles Flame retardants used in fabrics, carpets, upholstery, mattresses, and children's products Swimming pools and hot tubs: many use bromine-based treatments

Bromine Can Do Significant Damage to Your Thyroid

Bromines are endocrine disruptors, and part of the halide family, a group of elements that also includes fluorine, chlorine, and iodine. Studies suggest that BVO can build up in human tissues, and animal studies have linked large doses to reproductive and behavioral issues. One characteristic of bromine that makes it detrimental to your health is that it competes for the same receptors your body uses to capture iodine. If you are exposed to a lot of bromine, your body will not hold on to iodine, which is needed by every tissue, including your thyroid gland.

Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function. Without iodine, your thyroid gland would be completely unable to produce thyroid hormone. Thirteen million Americans are estimated to have hypothyroidism, but the actual number is probably higher. Some experts claim that 10 to 40 percent of Americans have suboptimal thyroid function.

If you are one of those with suboptimal thyroid, your thyroid gland itself may not be the problem. You may instead be suffering from iodine deficiency brought on by inadequate consumption of iodine-rich foods and/or excessive bromine exposure, which ends up blocking your iodine uptake. This problem appears in conventional blood tests as a glandular problem, but is actually a problem of nutrition and/or toxicity.

The Risks of Bromine Reach Well Beyond Your Thyroid

The buildup of bromine in your body can result in iodine deficiency and bromine toxicity12 that can manifest a variety of serious health problems over time, including the following:

  • Increased cancer risk: Iodine deficiency can increase your risk for cancers of the thyroid gland, breast,13 ovary, and prostate as a result of "bromide dominance"14
  • Infertility: One animal study found that rats receiving one percent BVO in their feed suffered impaired fertility, and at two percent, they became completely infertile15
  • Psychological/psychiatric problems: Because bromine is a central nervous system depressant, it can produce acute paranoia, psychosis, and other types of mental illness. 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 common bromine exposure16
  • Skin rashes and lesions (bromoderma tuberosum): Severe acne, folliculitis, papules, pustules, and other skin eruptions17
  • Miscellaneous other problems: Fatigue, anorexia, abdominal pain, metallic taste, and cardiac arrhythmias (triggered by iodine depletion)18

Scientific American19 cites two case studies that illustrate how bromine toxicity can threaten your health. 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.20

Then in 2003, a 63-year-old Ohio man developed ulcers on his swollen hands after drinking eight liters of Red Ruby 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.21

Government and Industry Claim BVO Is 'Safe Enough'

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permitted the use of BVO on an interim basis—meaning, temporary approval pending additional study—way back in 1970.22 This effectively means they did not feel there was enough evidence to support the designation of GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) without further scientific investigation. But four decades is not temporary! Yes, 44 years later, those studies have not been done and BVO is STILL on the "interim" list. Why? It boils down to one more example of how FDA favors policies that protect big industry at the expense of public health.

According to the FDA, changing the status of BVO would be costly and is "not a public health priority" at this time. Other food additives that are in similar FDA limbo include saccharin, mannitol, and acrylonitrile. You are swimming in a sea of chemicals that are essentially untested—well, you and your children ARE the test subjects...23

In 1977, FDA established what it considered to be a safe limit for BVO in beverages—15 parts per million. But some scientists say that limit is based on thin data that is several decades old and should be revised.24,25 Toxicity testing has changed significantly over the past few decades. It is now possible to observe neurodevelopmental, hormonal, and reproductive changes across multiple generations of laboratory animals, not possible decades ago.

Why Ditching Soda Should Be a Crucial Step in Your Health Plan

There are many reasons to banish soda from your diet, beyond BVO. Soda and other sweetened commercial beverages have essentially no nutritional benefits, but are loaded with other chemical additives and high amounts of refined sugar, typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup—or even worse, artificial sweeteners. The average 12-ounce can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar, at least half of which is fructose, so one can of soda alone exceeds your daily recommended allotment of fructose (15 grams/day) if you're insulin resistant, which about 80 percent of Americans are.

Excess sugar has been unequivocally linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and many other serious health problems, so the less sugar you consume, the better.

In order to break free, you may need to address the emotional component of your food cravings using tools such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). You can even tap along with Julie in the guided EFT video above. Be sure to check out our Turbo Tapping article, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to squelch your soda addiction quickly and painlessly. The most effective way to eliminate sugar cravings for good is to teach your body to use fat for fuel. Ditching carbs and adding healthy fat is a key component of this, which I discuss in my optimized nutrition plan. Intermittent fasting can also help your body make the transition from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary source of fuel.

As for beverages, remember that nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body's needs for fluids. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with a squirt of lime or lemon juice, or sweetened with stevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. If you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.

Sweetened beverages, whether sweetened by fructose, another form of sugar, or artificial sweeteners, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain, not to mention your exposure to potentially dangerous chemical additives like BVO.