Hoaxes & Rumors

Does Mountain Dew Contain a Dangerous Toxin?

Does Mountain Dew Contain a Dangerous Toxin?
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Does Mountain Dew contain a dangerous toxin which is banned in many countries? Today we provide multiple opinions from various experts on the subject.

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Claims on Social Media

Let’s take a look at a claim that has been circulating on social media in recent years:

POISON ALERT!!

Are you a Mountain Dew addict? Then know what you’re drinking! BVO is a toxic chemical that is banned in many countries because it competes with iodine for receptor sites in the body, which can lead to hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, and cancer. The main ingredient, bromine, is a poisonous, corrosive chemical, linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss.

“There’s flame retardant in your Mountain Dew. That soda with the lime-green hue (and other citrus-flavored bubbly pops) won’t keep your insides fireproof, but it does contain brominated vegetable oil, a patented flame retardant for plastics that has been banned in foods throughout Europe and in Japan.

Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, which acts as an emulsifier in citrus-flavored soda drinks, is found in about 10 percent of sodas sold in the U.S.

“After a few extreme soda binges — not too far from what many gamers regularly consume – a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine,” according to a recent article in Environmental News.”

People need to be educated, so please Like and Share!

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)

The “toxin” in question is brominated vegetable oil, or BVO,  a food additive that has been used as an “emusifier” in citrus-flavored soft drinks since the 1930s.  BVO is a synthetic chemical made from soybean or corn oil that has been bonded to bromine atoms.  The bromine atoms add weight to the vegetable oil so that it mixes with the sugary water and fat soluble citrus flavorings within soft drinks. Otherwise, this flavoring would float to the surface and be unequally distributed throughout the beverage. An online ingredient glossary owned by PepsiCo describes the process in this way:

BVO is widely used by soft drink makers to help keep flavoring oils well-blended. Since oils do not mix well with water, stabilizers, like BVO, help dissolve and keep the flavor oils evenly distributed throughout the beverages. Because BVO is used in trace amounts (no more than 15 parts per million or 0.0015%) it does not add fat to the product. BVO is usually derived from corn or soybean oil.

BVO was listed as “generally recognized as safe” in the United States by the Food and Drum Administration (FDA) in 1958. This classification was withdrawn in 1970, and restrictions were placed on the amount that can be used in food or beverages (15 parts per million). It is not an approved additive in countries such as Japan, India, and the European Union.

Science Studies on BVO

One concern about BVO is that bromine is found within brominated flame retardants. Many commonplace chemicals were in usage before modern health regulations were in place, and many continue to be widely used in spite of this. Could this be the case with bromine since it has been used since the 1930s? Lets look at a few studies on bromine and BVO supplied by Scientific American:

  • 1970 – British researchers feed 0.8% brominated maize oil to rats for two weeks, and find that bromine can accumulate in the fat tissue of rats. Read an abstract of the study here.
  • 1971 – Another British study found bromine was accumulating in human fat tissue, and the likely culprit was BVO. The study can be viewed here.
  • 1971 – Canadian researchers feed rats a diet containing 0.5% BVO for 105 days. The rats developed enlarged hearts with lesions on the heart muscles. View the study here.
  • 1983 – Although the equivalent of 100 times the 15 parts per million allowed by the FDA, rats fed BVO for 2 weeks developed behavior problems. Rats fed a 1% BVO diet for two weeks prior to mating had difficulty conceiving. Rats fed a 2% BVO diet for two weeks prior to mating became temporarily impotent.
  • 1997 – A Californian teen is taken to the emergency room after consuming 2-4 liters of cola on a daily basis. The patient suffered headache, fatigue, loss of muscle coordination, and memory loss which lasted for a month due to bromine poisoning (bromism). In addition, the patient needed kidney dialysis in order to recover. Read the report here.
  • 2003 – A 63-year-old Ohio man develops ulcers and swelling on his hands after drinking eight liters of soft drinks every day for months. The man was diagnosed with a certain form of bromine intoxication effecting the skin called bromoderma. Four months after discontinuing the habit, the man’s hands returned to normal. The report can be found here.
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Recent BVO News

In 2013, PepsiCo announced that it would no longer use BVO in Gatorade, and would use sucrose acetate isobutyrate instead. That ingredient has also had its detractors, but it is listed as generally recognized as safe by the FDA and appears on the Current  European Union (EU) Approved Additives list.

PepsiCo’s decision to remove BVO from Gatorade was perhaps in response to an online petition created by a 15-year old teenager from Mississippi which drew over 200,000 signatures. The teen created the petition after Googling all of the ingredients on her Gatorade bottle.

In early May 0f 2014, Coca-Cola announced it was following PepsiCo in a decision to remove BVO from it’s beverages, and the removal would be complete among U.S. beverages by the end of the year, yet it remains somewhat unclear if BVO will be completely removed from all U.S. beverages (such as Mountain Dew). Both companies continue to claim that BVO is safe and their decisions were not in response to the petition. However, they do admit the removal was in response to consumer demands. In a 2013 Chicago Tribune article, Gatorade spokeswoman Molly Carter commented, “While our products are safe, we are making this change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade, despite (it) being permitted for use in North American and Latin American countries.”

Hypocrisy?

The irony in the BVO debate is that after 80 years of use in soft drinks, we have only seen vague risks and a few anecdotal stories related to this chemical which is measured in parts per million. The high sugar and sodium content in these same drinks present clear risks, yet this hasn’t sparked the same outrage.

Note: A 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew contains 170 calories, 46 grams of sugar, and 65 mg of sodium.

Google Trends History

The Google Trends graph below displays a chronological search history for “brominated vegetable oil Mountain Dew”. Interest appears to have peaked in March and April of 2013. A smaller surge of interest occurred in September of 2014. It appears curiosity on this subject has subsided since then.

Bottom Line

Mountain Dew does contain a very small amount of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) as a separating agent. The FDA allows the addition of 15 parts per million of BVO in beverages within the United States. Some research has shown that excessive doses of BVO can buildup within the body and may cause various health problems. Recently, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have opted to remove BVO from certain soft drinks due to negative consumer perceptions. Some experts have pondered why is there an adverse public reaction against BVO, but no resistance to the unhealthy amounts of sugar and sodium within soft drinks.

Updated March 18, 2015
Originally published July 2013

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