Sodium benzoate is a widely used food preservative, with an E number of E211. It can be produced by reacting benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide.
Like many other similar food industry chemicals, E211 was originally found in an organic form in nature and trace amounts of the organic form can be found in cranberries, blueberries, apples, cinnamon, and plums.
Nevertheless, sodium benzoate has no known adverse effects in its organic form.
It is a usual food preservative used in soft drinks, pickles, jellies, jams, or salad dressings. In addition, producers add it to beauty and health products such as shampoo, mouthwash, deodorant, and body lotions.
As a preservative, E211 prevents fungi and bacteria from developing in products and contaminating these items and changing their compositions.
E211 is a well known and widely used preservative for pharmaceutical products such as flavored vehicles, syrups, and multiple-dose containers for liquid preparations.
It is also used to treat hyperammonemia, which is a metabolic disturbance, characterized by an excess of ammonia in the blood. It is a dangerous and severe condition that may lead to death and encephalopathy.
This compound is also used as a treatment for UCD – urea cycle disorders, a disease that affects how the body removes the waste that results from breaking down protein.
E211 – sodium benzoate side effects
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
A study published in 2007 and conducted by the UK’s FSA – Food Standards Agency demonstrates that a combination of certain artificial colors and this chemical may be strongly associated with ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
ADHD is a group of behavioral symptoms that include hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness.
In combination with vitamin C, E211 and potassium benzoate may form benzene, a known carcinogen, which, for instance, has caused cancer in workers exposed to high levels.
The rate at which benzene is formed is affected by heat and light, as well as the time the products spend on a shelf from production to consumption.
When tested by the Food and Drug Administration, most beverages that contained both vitamin C and E211 had benzene levels that were below those considered threatening for the health of the consumer. However, the scientists at Southampton University established that tests have shown that consumption of E211 lowers the I.Q. by up to five points in children.
Some studies have concluded that this chemical itself can damage DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) by attacking the cells’ mitochondria (mitochondria act as the power plants of the cell). Because mitochondria are so crucial to the functions of cells and their oxygen consumption, damage over time can lead to disease and malfunction.
Just as humans need oxygen to breathe, cells need oxygen to function correctly and to fight off infection and free radicals.
A professor at the University of Sheffield found that E211 and the damage that it can cause to DNA structure and to mitochondria can be connected to numerous neurodegenerative diseases and can also damage the aging process as a whole. Therefore, this preservative extends the shelf life of many products, while it shortens human life.
In the U.S., this substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA but has limited usage to 0.1 percent of a product by weight. Furthermore, the limit for safe drinking water as set by the FDA is less than 5 parts per billion.
To reduce the amount of E211 ingestion, avoid consuming soft drinks and other products that list sodium benzoate as an ingredient. Additionally, if you cook with or use a lot of soy sauce, buy the E211 free variety.