The disgusting ingredient in Gatorade

A petition against brominated vegetable oil found in Gatorade adds to bad beverage news for consumers.

By Jason Notte Dec 13, 2012 5:38PM

Gatorade set-up on the sidelines during an NFL football game on Sept. 23, 2012 in Miami ( Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo)Today's entry on the list of Terrible Things You're Drinking: Flame retardant.

Thank a petition circulated by 15-year-old Sarah Kavanagh of Hattiesburg, Miss., for reminding everyone that PepsiCo (PEP) product Gatorade -- along with 10% of other drinks sold in the U.S. -- contains brominated vegetable oil (BVO).

It's supposed to keep the flavors in citrus drinks from separating into orange-tangerine-grapefruit slick floating atop a bed of seltzer, but it's so named because it contains bromine, which is the same element found in the flame retardant used on upholstery and children's items like pajamas. How refreshingly noncombustible.

It's just the latest bit of bad news for the the American convenience store drinker this year. Already, tallboy cans of Monster Energy (MNST) faced scrutiny in a lawsuit filed after a 14-year-old Maryland girl died last year from heart problems after drinking the sugar-packed beverage on two consecutive days. Monster's pint-sized competitor, 5-Hour Energy, drew similar criticism last month when its high levels of B vitamins and the amino acid taurine were cited in 13 reports of drink-related deaths submitted to the Food and Drug Administration.

Back in March, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Center for Science in the Public Interest found high levels of 4-methylimidazole, an animal carcinogen, in Coca-Cola (KO) and Pepsi products, though the FDA disputes the claim. Both of those companies are fans of BVO, as PepsiCo adds it to both Gatorade and Mountain Dew, while Coca-Cola puts it in Powerade, Fresca and Fanta Orange. and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS), for its part, uses BVO in Squirt and some Sunkist brands.

As with the chemicals in the drinks above, the bromine found in BVO creates its share of problems once ingested. When used in flame retardants, research has found that it can build up in both the body and breast milk. Studies link that buildup to neurological disorders, reduced fertility, hormonal changes and advanced puberty.

Brominated vegetable oil has been linked to short term issues, including cramping, blurred vison, teariness, vomiting and cyanosis (that's right, it can turn your skin blue), but it also  lets bromine build up in fatty tissues. In rats, this leads to heart lesions. In humans, it's been associated with memory loss, birth defects and growth problems. An article in Scientific American found that video game players who chug mass quantities of Mountain Dew and other BVO-laden drinks to keep their edge wind up with skin lesions, nerve disorders and memory loss.

BVO's beverage use and potential dangers aren't exactly breaking news. A Yahoo columnist  typed out a screed against it four years ago, while regulators have been less than enthusiastic about its use for decades. According to the New York Times, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association revoked approval of BVO in 1970 after its studies couldn't definitively prove it was safe. In 1977 the FDA ruled that BVO up to 15 parts per million was safe for use in fruit-flavored beverages, but stressed that the approval was a temporary measure pending further study. By comparison, wood rosin is a approved for the same purpose at 100 parts per million.

Nearly four decades later, those studies haven't happened because, as its spokeswoman says, they "would require an expenditure of FDA's limited resources, which is not a public health protection priority for the agency at this time." Meanwhile, the European Union has banned its use in food and Japan is moving in the same direction.

Even if the FDA can't scrape up enough spare change to consider similar action, beverage companies might be swayed to act on their own. Back in February, McDonald's (MCD) and other companies stopped making burgers out of meat bits treated with ammonium hydroxide -- better known as "pink slime." Starbucks (SBUX) stopped using dye made of acid extracted from cochineal bugs as its pink food coloring in April after being pressured by a petition similar to Kavanagh's.

Perhaps one day a thirsty consumer will be able to open a store's cooler and not have to worry about drinking a bottle or can full of potential lesions. Until then, even dubious tap water is less costly than playing Russian roulette with the colorfully packaged chemicals in the drink aisle.

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Tags: DramaFood
Dec 13, 2012 9:41PM
People believe that soft drinks and packaged foods have always had these chemicals in them, and now we're becoming too sensitive and we shouldn't worry about it because they have always been there. That is very wrong. Every year we are given more chemicals without being informed and without those chemicals passing any kind of testing. If you looked at the ingredient difference of a Hersey chocolate bar 20 years ago and compared it to today's the ingredient list today is twice as long with all kinds of ingredients that are not food. Years ago your packaged foods were almost entirely made of food, and preserved with sugar and salt. Now we have these same packaged foods with corn syrup and a list of chemical preservatives and emulsifiers that no animal should every be consuming. And is it any coincidence that when we started getting our food supply poisoned with chemicals is the same time we started seeing increased cancer, autoimmune diseases and autism. Hmmmmm, wonder why?
Dec 13, 2012 6:25PM
If you don't like what's in Gatorade, don't drink it.  Drink water.
Dec 13, 2012 10:26PM
I tried to light my farts on fire last weekend after drinking Gatorade. Now I know why they wouldn't light.
Dec 13, 2012 6:40PM
Brominated, Hydrogenated. It's all bad for you to consume. Drink water, juice, coffee and tea. Problem solved!
Dec 13, 2012 9:41PM

If Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) is used to keep citrus juices from seperating, then why is it included in Gatorade at all?


The label clearly states "NO FRUIT JUICE".

Dec 13, 2012 6:44PM
If you put a warning on a label that states how much to consume and you ignore it and harm is that the manufacturer's fault?

As for the Gatorade...if you don't like what's in it...don't consume it.  I'm all for informing people...but it's a person's choice to decide what they want to consume.  

Dec 13, 2012 8:04PM

Anybody who eats "normal" food off the grocery store shelves is consuming preservatives and other "mystery" ingredients which by now, the human body has pretty much adapted to. How many people, especially my age (just turned 50) grew up on drinking Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Gatorade etc. Ate Twinkies, red meat by the tons and all kinds of other stuff that is now coming under fire all these years later and, at least for me, my doctors says I'm healthy as a horse.


As somebody else mentioned, moderation may be the key. Who's to day.   

Dec 13, 2012 9:12PM
Bought a half gallon of organic milk for my mom. Cost a dollar more then a full gallon of just plain milk. I can't afford to eat natural/organic. I keep my intake of chemical laden drinks etc. to a minimum but eating totally healthy is way beyond my budget. I have yet to see blue people walking around. I have a feeling that, so long as one doesn't attempt to live on Gatorade and others of its ilk, health problems will be minimal. As far as those energy drinks are concerned, drinking one is generally harmless, drinking a six pack is stupid.
Dec 13, 2012 7:26PM

And the FDA says what to this? Do they do their job or does it take a 15 year old to tell us these facts?

Isn't life grand?

Dec 13, 2012 6:25PM
This is why I drink green tea and that's it. And none that pre-brewed, bottled crap either. I buy green tea bags and brew my own. Way better for you than this other crap. All of these poisons should be illegal.
Dec 13, 2012 6:25PM
This writer obviously know much about chemistry. He states that "bromine builds in the muscle tissues". What bromine compound is he talking about? Bromine cannot in its' pure elemental from in your body, because it is so chemically reactive. In its' elemental state it is a strong oxidizer, or very electronegative. Maybe do your research better next time.
Dec 13, 2012 6:45PM
Ane let's not forget the high-fructose corn syrup in Gatorade and other beverages. Terrible for you.
Dec 13, 2012 9:04PM

Remember , Life is bad for you. No matter what you do it is not good for you.

The cure for everything is death.

Well, you only LIVE ONCE ... do the things that make you feel good and happy.


Sing the " Don't Worry, Be Happy " song.

Dec 13, 2012 8:18PM
If people were turning blue from drinking Mt. Dew, wouldn't we all have noticed? Don't blue people stand out in a crowd?
Dec 14, 2012 12:34PM
Many people don't know that there's another very common flame retardant that we drink by the gallon.  It's in virtually everything we drink, and many things we eat.  There are actually people who just drink it straight.
It's dihydrogen monoxide.  Among other things, it will kill you in minutes if you breath it.  And it's perfectly legal to disguise its presence in innocuous terms on any list of ingredients.
I did not make this up; it's real!

Dec 13, 2012 9:48PM
Dec 14, 2012 10:11AM
I'm not questioning the harmful effects of BVO. 

The author is exercising poor argumentation: 
BVO contains bromine, bromine is an element used in flame retardants, therefore, BVO is flame retardant.

Chemistry doesn't work that way.

That would be like saying don't drink water, it contains oxygen, which is an element in carbon monoxide, so, if you drink water, you're drinking poison.   Or, don't breathe air, it contains nitrogen, which is an element present in cyanide, so you breathe, you're breathing in a poison. 

I'm a chemist, but you don't need to be a chemist to realize that.  Even high school chemistry should have taught you that!

Dec 14, 2012 8:18AM
Yet another reason to not love Corpocracy.

And the "socialist" Europeans ban harmful substances.

I guess "socialist" means not being run by corporations and actually giving a crap about people.
Dec 14, 2012 9:23AM
lol at people making excuses for companies selling poison
Dec 13, 2012 7:18PM

 it`s all ****. no one is going to take away my pepsi and chips. iam just getting my wife over bed bugs because she saw it on the internet. now she is cut off no more msn for her . she has to use google.

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