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 14, 2012 12:04AM
I'm glad I read this artcle and also glad that I don't drink much more than water, juice, tea or coffee but  used to think that Gatorade or Powerade was the lesser of two evils at the gas station.  Now I know different. Thanks for sharing the article.
Dec 13, 2012 11:23PM

There is a reason I drink nothing but water, and coffee that I brew myself..

Dec 13, 2012 10:47PM
I just checked the G2 powder and it doesnt have it in it. I like it while hiking and mix it with water while up there.
Dec 13, 2012 10:45PM
Drink beer and wine (red). It sure worked for me when I was in Mexico and other overseas' areas. It makes you bullet-proof too....
Dec 13, 2012 10:32PM
This is not anything new.  It has been known for some time that modern 'processed' foods and beverages of all kinds are basically slowly poisoning us.  Preservatives are another culprit in many foods as well.  It is basically a trade off.  Do you go hungry or die of cancer from your processed food.  LOL  From my perspective I could probably do with going hungry a bit more often as I am presently somewhat over my optimum weight.  Maybe we all should eh?
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 10:24PM
The article is incorrect and inaccurate: BVO is just in the orange flavor, not the other flavors of Gatorade. These articles are usually full of sensationalism, not real fact or science.
Dec 13, 2012 9:48PM
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 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 9:39PM
must be a Republican, they ALL know what is best for us!!!

Dec 13, 2012 9:29PM

I'm shocked I thought it was crack.  What ever the ingredients, they are addictive.  When are people going to wake up and stop falling for all the advertizing schemes of power drinks and instant weight loss. I've got bad vision but those drinks just look plain nasty. Where is the logic kids shouldn't drink Kool Aid because of the sugar?? And while I am on my soap box, for what reason are people walking around with water in plastic bottles?? They think it's healthy??  Bottled water is not regulated, people.  You can get water out of your tap and it probably contains far less bacteria than your $2.00 bottled water that has sat in various temperatures for no telling how long in a warehouse.  Think people think. 

Dec 13, 2012 9:28PM
Written by the same genius that thinks footballs cause hand cancer.
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 9:08PM
Personally, I have come to the conclusion that LIVING is bad for my health.

It's called moderation people. Watch what you eat, and vary your diet with different things. 
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 9:04PM

well great we have been drinking this stuff for decades we know it is not "healthy" but we don't really expect it to be poison. Thanks pepsi thanks coca cola we really appreciate it....


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 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.   

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