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Preservative in soft drinks linked to cell damage


June 2, 2007:

New studies have raised fresh fears about health hazards associated with soft drinks.

According to Professor Peter Piper, molecular biologist and a researcher at Sheffield University in the United Kingdom, the preservative called sodium benzoate causes cell damage, says a report in the British newspaper The Independent. The damage could lead to diseases like cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson’s.

Peter Piper says his research shows that sodium benzoate damages DNA.

According to internet health source FeedBurner, sodas like Fanta and Pepsi Max are among those that contain the preservative sodium benzoate.

Research has not been done on the substance in decades, says Peter Piper, and its safety needs to be re-evaluated using modern methods.

Professor Piper’s research, which suggests that benzoate contributes to faster ageing and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, increases the pressure on makers of soft drinks to find alternative ways to preserve their products.

However, Richard Laming, of the British Soft Drinks Association, has defended the industry’s continued use of sodium benzoate by saying that sodium benzoate is approved for use by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency and that the industry follows the guidance of the regulatory authorities.

According to Richard Laming, sodium benzoate is “the most effective preservative currently authorised” and it is used widely in soft drinks and is included in 44 new food and drink products across the United Kingdom in 2006.

Yet, it is the third time in about one year that sodium benzoate, also known as E211 in the European Union, has been publicly linked with health hazard.

In 2006, an investigation by BeverageDaily.com revealed that soft drinks industry leaders had known that sodium benzoate may break down to form benzene, a potentially cancerous chemical, in drinks also containing ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or citric acid.

More recently, sodium benzoate was one of seven ‘E-numbers’ linked to behavioural problems in children.

Professor Piper says the livers of some children livers are “working overtime” to process the amount of sodium benzoate entering their bodies.

Piper, who tested benzoate on yeast cells in his laboratory, found that the preservative sodium benzoate induced an increase in the production of oxygen radicals, or free radicals, which several studies have linked to serious illnesses and ageing in general.

In the study, first completed in 1999, benzoate appeared to attack the ‘power station’ of the cells, known as the mitochondria. Sodium benzoate damaged the cells’ ability to prevent the oxygen leaks that creates free radicals. Too much alcohol is believed to inflict similar damage on the cells.

Yeast cells were used because of their similarity to human cells, but no research on humans has yet been done.

Professor Piper has called for new safety tests on sodium benzoate, taking into account a growing body of science on free radicals.




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