If you’ve always suspected that neon-colored sodas like Mountain Dew, Fanta Orange and various citrusy Gatorade drinks contain less-than-savory ingredients, you’re right. These and other highly sweetened, highly colored citrus-flavored sodas contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a synthetic chemical first patented as a flame retardant that some scientists now say deserves closer scrutiny. According to a recent article posted on Environmental Health News, BVO is found in 10% of sodas in the U.S., yet research about its health effects are limited.
What research does exist is decades old, and fails to account for the many worrisome potential consequences of over-exposure to bromine, including “skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders.” The article adds: “Other studies suggest that BVO could be building up in human tissues, just like other brominated compounds such as flame retardants. In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems.”
Essentially the BVO—derived from soybeans or corn—weighs flavoring down, preventing it from separating out. But it’s now known that these chemicals build up in human tissue and breast milk and they have been linked to reproductive problems, early puberty and altered thyroids. It’s particularly concerning for children and teens who consume large quantities of these sodas (often, as noted in the article, to stay awake while playing video games) and severe reactions to bromine in these drinks have landed some in emergency rooms.
In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled BVO from its list of chemicals on the Generally Recognized as Safe list, but later rescinded after industry studies indicated it was safe. While BVO is currently accepted for use as a “stabilizer” in fruit-flavored drinks at 15 parts per million, the FDA approval remains at the “interim” level, indicating more studies are needed. It’s been at this level since 1977. Meanwhile, studies with both pigs and dogs have not revealed significant health problems. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told Environmental Health News: “Is it harmful at the amounts consumed? Probably not. But it would be nice if the FDA did a thorough review of the literature and finalized an approval or a ban.”
But enough health risk is suspected with BVO that both Europe and Japan have banned it from food products for decades. Naturally based hydrocolloids replace the brominated chemicals in beverages abroad.