Potassium Benzoate; How To Avoid These 5 Shocking Health Risks

Chemical preservatives and additives seem to be all around us. You can’t walk through the middle aisles of a supermarket without being surrounded by a cocktail of baffling chemical names. These are often abbreviated down to numbers and letters that make very little sense. One in particular that appears frequently is potassium benzoate.

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give much thought to the preservatives in your food. After all, they’re there to keep your food fresh and safe to eat, right? Unfortunately, some preservatives, like potassium benzoate, may come with some surprising health risks.

This chemical is a common preservative found in many processed foods and beverages. It’s added to everything from soft drinks and fruit juices to pickles and condiments. While it’s generally recognised as safe by the FDA, some studies suggest that it may have some negative health effects when consumed in large amounts. 1

So what are these health risks, and how can you avoid them?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at potassium benzoate and three surprising health risks associated with this common preservative. We’ll also provide some tips for avoiding it in your diet, so you can stay healthy and feel your best.

What is Potassium Benzoate?

If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t heard of this chemical. It’s a food preservative that’s commonly used in a variety of processed foods and beverages. It is the potassium salt of benzoic acid, a compound that’s naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, including cranberries, prunes, plums, and cinnamon. 2

It is used to extend the shelf life of foods and drinks by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. While it is generally recognised as safe by the FDA, there are some potential health risks associated with its consumption. Let’s take a closer look.

Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate

Sodium Benzoate (E211) and Potassium Benzoate (E212) are preservatives that can be found in a range of domestic consumable products such as:

  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Pickles
  • Soy sauce
  • Flour
  • Salad dressings
  • Margarine
  • Fruit juices
  • Beer, and
  • Some medicines to name a few

What Are The Dangers Of Potassium Benzoate?

The dangers of this preservative begin and end with it being a synthetic chemical for many people. Some serious concerns are emerging which Researchers are constantly evaluating.

Years of consuming these types of chemicals can have impacts on your health in a range of ways. This particular chemical is understood to have the potential to trigger a range of health complications. Often these show up as gut issues.

Side note; colon cleanses may be a good idea if you are looking at diet changes to help flush any toxins out of your body. Speak with a healthcare specialist in this area about your specific needs before you attempt any course of action.

So, let’s take a quick walk through some basic products you may have in your home and consider the usual suspects as we bring them into muster.

Trust me, this preservative is not the only questionable substance that you need to be mindful of. Please note that this is not intended to drum up fear, but to raise awareness.

There may be a little shock to what you learn here if you didn’t already know this. Research has indicated that this chemical has been linked to:

Cancer and Leukemia

Studies on animals have shown that benzoate salts, including potassium benzoate, can break down into benzene, a known carcinogen. Although the amounts of benzene produced by benzoate salts are usually so small, and arguably disconnected in chemistry applications, that it is negligible for most people, many consider it is still a concern. 3 4

Benzene exposure has been linked to leukemia and other cancers. 5

Various Researchers have concluded that when potassium benzoate is combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) under certain conditions, it can lead to the formation of small amounts of benzene, a known human carcinogen.

The connection between potassium benzoate, benzene, and leukemia comes from the potential for benzene to cause damage to the bone marrow, where blood cells are formed. The hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) within the bone marrow are critical for blood cell formation, and benzene has been shown to interfere with normal HSC function, leading to hematotoxicity and potentially, leukemia. 6

Benzene can damage HSCs through various mechanisms, including direct effects from its reactive metabolites or reactive oxygen species generated during its metabolism. These reactive substances can cause DNA damage, which, if not repaired, can result in mutations that ultimately lead to the development of leukemia stem cells. Over time, these leukemia stem cells can proliferate and lead to leukemia.

Potassium Benzoate - leukemia cells

It is important to note that the levels of benzene found in soft drinks containing potassium benzoate are generally low and may not pose a significant risk to human health. However, long-term exposure to benzene from multiple sources, including contaminated air, water, and food, can increase the risk of developing leukemia. 7

To minimise the potential risk of leukemia, it is essential to understand the mechanisms of benzene-induced leukemia and to further evaluate the impact of benzene metabolites on signalling pathways, bone marrow niches, and stem cell biology.

This sound extremely complicated, because it is. By being aware of ingredients in certain foods you can make more informed choices about the products you consume and take steps to reduce your exposure to benzene and other harmful substances. 8

Asthma

Some people may experience asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, after consuming products containing this preservative. Some children have been reported to develop asthma in response to dietary sodium benzoate, a close chemical relative of potassium benzoate. 9

Although the exact mechanism connecting potassium benzoate and asthma is not fully understood, it is essential to consider this potential link. Some Researchers believe that this arises from the benzoate salts irritating the airways and triggering asthma attacks in sensitive individuals. 10 11

To minimise the risk of asthma-related to potassium benzoate, you may consider consuming drinks with alternative preservatives or those that do not contain potassium benzoate.

Hyperactivity

Consuming potassium benzoate may also lead to hyperactivity in some children. A study published in the journal The Lancet found that benzoate preservatives can increase hyperactivity in children. The study suggested that benzoates could be a factor in the rise of ADHD diagnoses in children. 12

Potassium Benzoate. - Hyperactive Child

If you are concerned about the health risks associated with this chemical, you may want to avoid consuming foods and drinks that contain it. Be sure to read labels carefully and opt for natural, preservative-free options whenever possible.

Liver Aggravation

This preservative is understood to have the potential to cause some negative effects on liver health. Although the exact mechanism is not entirely understood, studies have shown that both potassium benzoate and its close relative, sodium benzoate, can contribute to the activation of inflammatory pathways in liver tissue. 13 14

One possible reason for this effect is that it, like sodium benzoate, can disrupt the structure of biological membranes, impacting mitochondrial energy coupling in living cells. This disruption may cause increased oxidative stress, which can result in damage to mitochondria, potentially contributing to the pathophysiology of mitochondrial disease.

While more research is needed to understand the specific mechanisms through which it affects the liver, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with consuming high levels of this preservative.

Parkinson’s Disease

The relationship between potassium benzoate and Parkinson’s disease is not as well-established. However, some studies have suggested that sodium benzoate, a closely related compound, may have a positive effect on Parkinson’s disease patients by inducing functional improvements.

Sodium benzoate is known to cross the blood-brain barrier and act as a competitive inhibitor of the enzyme D-amino acid oxidase (DAAO). 15

By inhibiting DAAO, sodium benzoate can increase the levels of D-serine in the brain, which in turn upregulates N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activity. This increase in NMDA receptor activity is associated with improved cognitive function and has been shown to benefit patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

While the evidence on potassium benzoate’s specific impact on Parkinson’s disease is limited, it may share some similarities with sodium benzoate due to its related structures.

However, it is important to note that more research is needed to establish a direct connection between potassium benzoate and its potential effects on Parkinson’s disease.

How to Avoid Potassium Benzoate

If you want to avoid the potential risks associated with it, there are a few steps you can take. Here are three ways to avoid this food additive:

Reading Labels

One of the easiest ways to avoid preservatives like this is to read the labels of the foods and drinks you buy. Look for this ingredient on the list of ingredients. If you see it listed, you may want to consider choosing a different product that does not contain it.

Choosing Alternative Products

Another way to avoid it is to choose alternative products that do not contain this ingredient. For example, if you typically drink soda that contains potassium benzoate, you could switch to a different brand or type of soda that does not contain this ingredient.

Similarly, if you typically buy processed foods that contain benzoates like this, you could choose to buy fresh or whole foods instead.

Potassium Benzoate - Healthier Choices

Preparing Food at Home

Finally, one of the most effective ways to avoid this preservative is to prepare your food at home. When you cook your meals from scratch, you have complete control over the ingredients you use. This means you can avoid this and other potentially harmful food additives.

By following these tips, you can reduce your exposure to preservatives like this and potentially lower your risk of experiencing any negative health effects associated with this ingredient.

FAQs

What does Benzoate do in the body?

Some studies suggest that consuming large amounts of benzoate over time may have negative health effects, such as increasing the risk of certain types of cancer, aggravating liver function, and triggering asthma attacks in sensitive individuals. The exact mechanism through which benzoate affects the body is not fully understood, but some researchers believe that it may irritate the airways and trigger asthma attacks. Additionally, benzoate has been shown to break down into benzene, a known carcinogen, under certain conditions.

Is Potassium Benzoate in Diet Coke?

Yes, it is a common preservative used in many soft drinks, including Diet Coke. However, the levels of potassium benzoate found in Diet Coke are generally considered safe by regulatory agencies such as the FDA.

Nevertheless, if you are concerned about the potential health risks associated with consuming this preservative, you may want to consider reducing your intake or choosing alternative beverages that do not contain it.

Is Potassium Benzoate in Coke?

Yes, Coke (Coca-Cola) and many other soft drinks contain this preservative. It is used to extend their shelf life. It is added to many other processed foods and beverages, including fruit juices, pickles, and condiments.

While it is generally recognised as safe by the FDA, some studies suggest that it may have negative health effects when consumed in large amounts. It is important to read labels carefully and be aware of the potential risks associated with consuming high levels of this preservative.

What foods and products contain Potassium Benzoate?

It is commonly used as a preservative in packaged foods, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, pickles, and condiments. It is also found in beauty and skin care products, such as shampoos, lotions, and creams.

Is Potassium Benzoate safe to consume?

According to the FDA, it is generally recognised as safe (GRAS) when used in the amounts necessary to achieve its intended purpose. However, some people may be sensitive to it and experience allergic reactions or other adverse effects.

What are the potential health risks of consuming Potassium Benzoate?

While this preservative is considered safe for most people, there are some potential health risks associated with its consumption. These include:
• Allergic reactions – Some people may be allergic to it and experience symptoms like hives, itching, and swelling.
• Increased risk of cancer – There is some evidence to suggest that benzoic acid, the compound that potassium benzoate is derived from, may increase the risk of cancer when consumed in large amounts over long periods. However, the amounts of it found in foods and products are generally considered safe.
• Interference with nutrient absorption – Some studies have suggested that it may interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium.

How can I avoid consuming Potassium Benzoate?

If you are concerned about the potential health risks of consuming this, there are several steps you can take to avoid it:
• Read food and product labels carefully to look for this or other benzoates on the ingredient list.
• Choose fresh, whole foods instead of packaged or processed foods whenever possible.
• Make your own skincare and beauty products using natural ingredients.

Conclusion

To avoid potential health risks associated with this, you should read the labels on packaged foods, and avoid products that contain it.

You can also choose to eat fresh, whole foods instead of processed foods, which are more likely to contain chemical preservatives like potassium benzoate.

Additionally, you can reduce your exposure to it by using natural beauty and skin care products that do not contain it. Look for products that use natural preservatives like vitamin E or grapefruit seed extract instead.

Overall, taking steps to avoid potassium benzoate can help protect your health and reduce your risk of developing the health issues associated with this preservative. By being mindful of what you eat and what products you use, you can take control of your health and reduce your exposure to harmful substances like this.

Join the conversation on Instagram and Pinterest to let us know your thoughts.

References

  1. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21” – FDA, 17 January 2023 [FDA] [Archive] ↩︎
  2. “Potassium benzoate” – PubChem Staff, 5 February 2008 [PubChem] [Archive] ↩︎
  3. “Questions and Answers on the Occurrence of Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages” – FDA Staff, 25 February 2022 [FDA] [Archive] ↩︎
  4. “Benzene in flavoured beverages” – FSA Staff, April 2013 [Food Standards Australia] [Archive] ↩︎
  5. “Benzene and Cancer Risk” – ACS Staff, 1 February 2023 [American Cancer Society] [Archive] ↩︎
  6. “Leukemia and Benzene” – R. Snyder, August 2012 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  7. “Facts About Benzene” – CDC Staff, 4 April 2018 [CDC] [Archive] ↩︎
  8. “Potential Safety Issues Surrounding the Use of Benzoate Preservatives” – P. W. Piper, 19 February 2018 [MDPI] [Archive] ↩︎
  9. “Benzoates” – D. Sijm, 9 November 2001 [OECD SIDS] [Archive] ↩︎
  10. “Asthma induced by sulphur dioxide, benzoate and tartrazine contained in orange drinks” – B. J. Freedman, September 1977 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  11. “Asthma Worsened By Benzoate Contained In Some Antiasthmatic Drugs” – L. Balatsinou, G. Di Gioacchino, G. Sabatinoi, E. Cavallucci, R. Caruso, E. Gabriele, S. Ramondo, L. Di Giampaolo, N. Verna, M. Di Gioacchino, Date [Sage Journals] [Archive] ↩︎
  12. “Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial” – D. McCann, A. B. Barrett, A. Cooper, D. Crumpler, L. Dalen, K. Grimshaw, E. Kitchin, K. Lok, L. Porteous, E. Prince, E. Sonuga-Barke, J. O. Warner, J. Stevenson, 3 November 2007 [The Lancet] [Archive] ↩︎
  13. “Kalama* Potassium benzoate FCC – Safety Data Sheet” – Product Compliance Department, Emerald Performance Materials, LLC, 14 October 2014 [ATP Group] [Archive] ↩︎
  14. “Safety evaluation of certain food additives: prepared by the ninety-second meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (‎JECFA)‎” – World Health Organization, 2022 [WHO] [Archive] ↩︎
  15. “Pharmacokinetics and Safety of Sodium Benzoate, a d-Amino Acid Oxidase (DAAO) Inhibitor, in Healthy Subjects: A Phase I, Open-label Study” – Y. S. Lin, W. C. Mao, N. T. Yao, G. E. Tsai, October 2022 [PubMed] [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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