Butylated Hydroxyanisole; Get Perspective On These 4 Health Risks Now

If you’re the type of person who is focused on the safety of the food you eat or the products you use, you may have heard of Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). BHA is a synthetic petrochemical that is widely used as a preservative in food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, rubber, and petroleum products. 1

While it has been used in food since approximately 1947, some studies have raised concerns about its potential health risks. 2

One of the main concerns about BHA is its potential to cause cancer via epigenetic mechanisms. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified BHA as a possible human carcinogen, based on animal studies. 3 4 5

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified BHA as generally recognised as safe (GRAS) for use as a food additive, and the European Union has approved its use in food at specified levels. 6 7

We will dig deeper into specific concerns with BHA in this article.

Health Risks Associated with Butylated Hydroxyanisole

Many would agree that it is fair to feel that it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with the use of BHA. This chemical is commonly used as a preservative in a variety of products, including food and personal care items.

Some of the health risks that are associated with BHA are known to include:

Cancer

As mentioned earlier, BHA has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the IARC. Studies have shown that BHA can cause cancer in laboratory animals, and there is some evidence to suggest that it may have similar effects in humans.

If you are concerned about your risk of cancer, it is would be wise to consider your degree of exposure to BHA as much as possible.

Endocrine Disruption

BHA has also been shown to have endocrine-disrupting effects. This means that it can interfere with the normal functioning of your hormones, which can have a variety of negative health effects. 8

For example, exposure to BHA has been linked to reproductive problems, thyroid dysfunction, and other hormonal imbalances. 9

butylated hydroxyanisole BHA - endocrine system

Allergic Reactions

Although rare, some people may be allergic to BHA, which can cause a variety of symptoms such as hives, itching, and swelling. 10

If you experience any of these symptoms after using a product that contains BHA, you should stop using it immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

Toxicity

BHA has been shown to have toxic effects on the liver and kidneys in laboratory animals. While it is not clear whether these effects would be the same in humans, it is still important to be aware of the potential risks. 11

If you are concerned about the toxicity of BHA, you should try to limit your exposure to this chemical as much as possible.

Regulations and Safety Measures

When it comes to Butylated Hydroxyanisole, there are regulations and safety measures in place to ensure that it is used safely and responsibly.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved BHA as a food additive, and it is generally recognised as safe (GRAS) for use in food. According to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, BHA is safe for use in food when the total content of antioxidants is not over 0.02 percent of fat or oil content, including the essential (volatile) oil content of food.

While BHA is approved for use in food, it is important to be aware of the potential health risks associated with its use. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has listed BHA as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” 12

It is important to note that the NTP’s listing is based on animal studies, and the risk to humans is not yet fully understood.

butylated hydroxyanisole - regulation

In addition to the NTP’s listing, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has also listed BHA as a chemical known to cause cancer.

This listing is based on the same animal studies used by the NTP. However, it is important to note that the OEHHA’s listing applies only to California and is not a federal regulation.

Overall, while BHA is considered safe for use in food when used within the established guidelines, it is important to be aware of the potential health risks associated with its use. It is also important to note that there are alternative antioxidants available for use in food that may be considered safer options.

FAQs

What is Butylated Hydroxyanisole used for?

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a synthetic, waxy, solid petrochemical that is widely used as a preservative in food, food packaging, animal feed, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, rubber, and petroleum products. It has been used in food since around 1947.

Is Butylated Hydroxyanisole good for skin?

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) is commonly used as a preservative in skincare and cosmetic products due to its antioxidant properties. While it has been approved by regulatory bodies for use in food and cosmetics, the safety and efficacy of BHA in skincare products are still a matter of debate among experts. 13

Some studies have shown that BHA may have potential health risks, such as causing skin irritation, allergic reactions, and disrupting hormone function. Additionally, long-term exposure to BHA has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in animals, though its cancer-causing potential in humans is still being studied.

Overall, the safety of BHA in skincare products depends on several factors, including the concentration used, the duration of use, and the individual’s skin type and sensitivity.

Is Butylated Hydroxyanisole in Food safe?

There are several health concerns linked to the use of BHA. It is considered to be an endocrine disruptor, which means it can interfere with hormone systems in the body. BHA has also been linked to organ-system toxicity and can cause tumours in rats and hamsters when consumed in large amounts. Additionally, in rare cases, BHA can induce allergic reactions in the skin.

What are the harmful effects of BHT?

Some of the potentially harmful effects of BHT may include:
• Allergic reactions – BHT can cause allergic reactions in some people, including skin rashes, itching, and swelling.
• Hormonal disruptions – BHT has been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body and may cause hormonal disruptions, particularly in women.
• Cancer – Some studies have suggested that BHT may be a potential carcinogen, meaning it has the potential to cause cancer in humans. However, more research is needed to confirm this.
• Liver and kidney damage – High doses of BHT have been shown to cause liver and kidney damage in animals, although the relevance of these findings to humans is unclear.
• Developmental and reproductive toxicity – BHT has been shown to have developmental and reproductive toxicity in animals, and there are concerns that it may have similar effects in humans.

Is BHA banned in any Countries?

BHA is not banned in the United States or Europe. Reports that it is banned in Japan are not entirely accurate. BHA is permitted in specific foods in very small quantities.

How can I avoid BHA?

BHA is commonly used as a preservative in processed foods, so it can be difficult to avoid completely. However, you can reduce your exposure by choosing fresh, whole foods instead of processed foods. You can also look for products that are labelled as BHA-free or use alternative preservatives.

Conclusion

While BHA is widely used in the world of chemical preservatives, it is important to be aware of the potential health risks associated with its use. By choosing fresh, whole foods and looking for BHA-free products, you can reduce your exposure to this synthetic preservative.

There are differences between butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHT is sometimes referred to as the cousin of BHA. You can check out our previous article on butylated hydroxytoluene.

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References

  1. “Butylated Hydroxyanisole” – ChEBI Team, 28 July 2014 [European Bioinformatics Institute] [Archive] ↩︎
  2. “Butylated Hydroxyanisole – CAS No. 25013-16-5” – National Toxicology Program, Department of Health and Human Services, 21 December 2021 [Report on Carcinogens] [Archive] ↩︎
  3. “Memorandum (BHA)” – S. A. Book, 19 December 1990 [OEHHA] [Archive] ↩︎
  4. “Butylated hydroxyanisole: Carcinogenic food additive to be avoided or harmless antioxidant important to protect food supply?” – S. P. Felter, X. Zhang, C. Thompson, 6 December 2020 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  5. “Known and Probable Human Carcinogens” – American Cancer Society Staff, 8 July 2022 [American Cancer Society] [Archive] ↩︎
  6. “Food Additive Status List” – FDA Staff, 25 August 2022 [FDA] [Archive] ↩︎
  7. “Commission Regulation (EU) No 1129/2011 of 11 November 2011 amending Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council by establishing a Union list of food additives (Text with EEA relevance)” – Author, 11 November 2011 [EUR-Lex] [Archive] ↩︎
  8. “Endocrine disrupting effects of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA – E320)” – A. Pop, B. Kiss F. Loghin, 4 February 2013 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  9. “Adverse Effects of Plasticizers and Pesticides on Female Reproductive Health” – M. P. Ramakrishna, R. M. Prasad, S. Huchegowda, M. Ramanna, M. K. Sharma, R. Huchegowda, 5 January 2022 [Sage Publications] [Archive] ↩︎
  10. “Ask the Doctors – How common are allergies to BHT, a food preservative?” – R. Ashley, 8 June 2018 [UCLA Health] [Archive] ↩︎
  11. “Toxicological Studies of Antioxidants, Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)” – S. Y. Choe, K. H. Yang, 30 September 1982 [Korea Science] [Archive] ↩︎
  12. “Bioassay of Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) for Possible Carcinogenicity” – U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1979 [NTP] [Archive] ↩︎
  13. “Specifications and Standards for Foods, Food Additives, etc. Under the Food Sanitation Act (Abstract) 2010” – JETRO, April 2011 [Japan External Trade Orginization] [Archive] ↩︎

Last Updated on 5 months by D&C Editorial Team

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About the Author

Matthew has been on an active journey towards living a healthy life from a young age. Influenced by his Grandmother, a practicing Naturopath who served her community from the 1940's to the 1980's, his views on living holistically were shaped from a young age. Growing up in different parts of Australia, his connection with the Ocean and a passion for sustainability comes through in everything he does and shares.

"I'm not a Doctor, and I don't play one on the Internet." - me

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