Caution in a Can: The danger of brominated vegetable oil

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WICHITA, Kansas – It’s a food additive the industry is now giving a second look.  It’s called BVO, brominated vegetable oil. It’s used in around 10 percent of U.S. Sodas, and it’s a flame retardant.

“My first thought when I hear brominated vegetable oil is it’s a chemical toxin, stay away from it,” said Dr. Jennifer Kaumeyer, director of the Riorden Clinic in Wichita.

While it’s patented as a flame retardant, the food industry found it’s also useful as an emulsifier in soft drinks. It basically keeps fruit flavored chemicals from rising to the top of Mountain Dew, Squirt, and some flavors of Fresca and Poweraide.

“The fact that it’s a flame retardant bothers me a little bit,” said Adam Linthicum, manager of the Game X-change on West Street. “I’ve drank quite a bit of Mountain Dew over the years.”

Mountain Dew targets teens and video gamers with their advertisements. They’ve recently had promotional tie-ins with both the Halo game franchise on X-Box and the popular personal computer gamer World of Warcraft.

“They know they’ve got a niche with the gaming community because of the caffeine content and gamers want to stay up and play games,” said Linthicum.

Kaumeyer says she’s treated several patients with signs of bromide poisoning after drinking large quantities of Mountain Dew over an extended period.

“They’ve got chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia type symptoms, their endocrine systems out of whack,” said Kaumeyer. “When you add that up and that accumulates in the body and stores in the body, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, in my opinion.”

BVO is banned in both Europe and Japan but allowed in small amounts in soft drinks sold in the United States and Latin America.

This year, PepsiCo announced they were taking BVO out of Gatorade products after an online petition started by a teenage Mississippi girl went viral, collecting more than 200,000 signatures.

“While our products are safe, we are making this change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade,” said the company in a statement.

PepsiCo will continue to keep BVO in Mountain Dew products sold in the Americas.

The FDA moved BVO from its list of safe additives in the 1970s and placed it on a list for more study.

It remains off the list of safe additives but the FDA maintains it’s safe in small doses.

Some doctors, though, disagree.

“If you’re going to market as a healthy beverage for people, you have to take out anything that’s linked to disease,” said Kaumeyer.

The FDA has no plans to study BVO further claiming it’s costly and not a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration.

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