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 7:49PM
So a food product should be banned just because it happens to also have a non-food use. Should we stop using vinegar in salad dressing just because it's good at cleaning windows? Should we stop cooking with baking soda just because it's good for laundry?
Dec 13, 2012 7:27PM
"along with 10% of other drinks sold in the U.S."
I smell a law suit by Gatorade, for being singled out!

Well, they could have said:

"The great tasting ingredient in Flame Retardant" 
 and nobody would have given not drinking Gatorade a second thought.

So what's the point?
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 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.

Dec 13, 2012 6:55PM
so bromine is in flame retardant...well, water is in poisons...does that mean we shouldn't drink water?...
Dec 13, 2012 6:48PM

Another story that makes you go.....



Dec 13, 2012 6:45PM
I don't understand how they get away with marketing Gatorade to people as a healthy drink when all it is really is water with a bunch of chemicals squirted into it.  It's nasty and just a taste of it, and you can tell it will give you cancer.  It's no different than pop.  Disgusting.
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 6:44PM
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 6:40PM
Brominated, Hydrogenated. It's all bad for you to consume. Drink water, juice, coffee and tea. Problem solved!
Dec 13, 2012 6:30PM
thats some nasty sounding ****, I wont drink no more mountain dew
Dec 13, 2012 6:25PM
If you don't like what's in Gatorade, don't drink it.  Drink water.
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.
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