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 12:42PM
yikes! i can now drink gasoline with my gatorade, i wont catch fire anymore,, cool
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 14, 2012 12:12PM

This just in... researchers have linked an ingredient found in the world's water supply to the same elements used in nuclear weapons.  Companies have been selling their bottled water products to consumers for decades even with the knowledge that their product does contain this dangerous ingredient.  The ingredient is none other than Hydrogen, which is a key component of Hydrogen bombs!


People need to cut the crap with it comes to these consumer watchdog findings.  Everything is so sensensationalized.   

Dec 14, 2012 12:11PM
Show me the autopsy reports of someone who died from BVO. It's all hype just like GMO, I mean, who wouldn't want to grow vegatables in sub-Sahara regions. Not nutritionally optimal, but it works!
Dec 14, 2012 12:01PM
More and more I am avoiding anything that is prepackaged or processed. I allow my self one small Coke for lunch most days. But at home I drink water or seltzer water, tea, coffee and a few beers on the weekend. I cannot stand all the salt in processed foods so I avoid them. Lately I've been feeling like I'm starving all the time because I avoid processed crap. But guess what? I'm losing weight like crazy. That can't be a bad thing. Another dress size down! Woo!
Dec 14, 2012 11:59AM

Would love for the children of today learn to do the basic dancing. In the 50's to whenever this stopped don't remember when.....I Believe the children of today would benefit ....the socializing, excersizeing, ...

we learned from our parents,  the fox trot, the Lindy, Cha,cha, many was fun during school lunch break, school dances, tennis court dances....girls would dance with girls... did not kn ow or think they were gay-lesbians.  Most never heard of gay people.  The word gay those days meant we were happy & gay (look up definition)  I do resent them using the word 'gay'.   Wish they would find a better word to call themselves.... signed, an OLD FASHING GAL

Dec 14, 2012 11:54AM

I drink brominated veggie oil on the regular mmmmm =d

Dec 14, 2012 11:51AM

Ok, so Gatorade has a chemical that isn't good for you.  So do almost all medicines.  So do most foods that aren't completely natural, and even natural foods can have stuff in them that is bad for you.  Your body is designed to handle that kind of thing as long as you don't do it in excess.  Too many people make such a big deal about being healthy that they make it so their body can't handle being exposed to things anymore and it just makes them even more sick.  For example, your body builds antibodies to diseases by being exposed to those diseases.  In the normal course of life, you typically are exposed to the common diseases in small doses and then you're mostly protected from them.  The people who try to avoid all disease exposure end up not having the antibodies and when they are exposed later in life, it causes far more problems.  An easy example is chicken pox.  It's not fun to get as a kid, but it's relatively safe for most kids.  However, if you avoid all exposure as a kid and then get it as an adult, it has a much greater chance of killing you.


As far as energy drinks, everyone should already know that it's a bad idea to drink that much caffeine in such a short time.  Especially for children.  As with everything, if you overdo it, it's going to be bad for you.  Small amounts aren't going to matter, but large amounts is unhealthy.  Even excercise can be bad if you overdo it.  Moderation is key to life.  Not avoiding things entirely.  Not being excessive.  Moderate what you eat and drink and do and you'll be much healthier.

Dec 14, 2012 11:40AM
Just in case some of you tree-humpers didn't know, water is a fire retardant also and can be dangerous if  consumed large quantities.
Dec 14, 2012 11:20AM
Hate to tell all of you water drinkers this,,, but water has worse chemicals in it than Gatorade. Try Flouride, Chlorine Bleach and so forth. They even put one chemical in,,, that in laboratory tests,,, literally turn Male rats into Female rats. Could be why there are SO many GAYS in this country,,,
Dec 14, 2012 11:13AM
That aint **** There are companies in the brewing industry that put Concrete in the beer and then when the put it in the can or bottle they add CO2 this can cause brain tumors and heart problems plus+  read what co2 can do too you  so enjoy that Bud and Bud Light. Cheers all
Dec 14, 2012 10:58AM
How does the FDA consider a flame retardent safe to consume? This is a classic profit over people scenario. And we wonder why there is a cancer epidemic! Oh wait thats a profit over people scenario as well. Welcome to the world in 2012-2013
Dec 14, 2012 10:42AM

"Water sucks, it really, really sucks"

I think the waterboy is right, don't drink Gatorade - just water.  No argument that it is good for you, saves you calories and chemicals you don't need.

Anyone who drinks gallons of Mt. Dew daily should probably be weeded out of the gene pool anyway. Darwinism.

Dec 14, 2012 10:36AM
The FL Gators invented this drink. DOn't tread on holy ground. If you don't like it don't drink it. OK?
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 10:11AM

The story conveniently left out that you have to drink about 5 cases a day for the effects to be felt.

Dec 14, 2012 10:00AM
the government should make sure that what we are eating, drinking are safe, isn't that their job, what bout all of the medications   they advertise & then proceed to to tell you the side effects, you are suppose to work how about doing your job?
Dec 14, 2012 9:55AM
Dec 14, 2012 9:54AM
I am tired of buying products & am being told that its good for you & then you send out a report like this, gatorade is suppose to be good for you because it keeps your bod in balance. Stop celebs like beyonce millions of dollars to sell pepsi & charge the consumer,$50,000,000.00, that is disgusting , you lost a customer & I hope more file suit.
Dec 14, 2012 9:23AM
lol at people making excuses for companies selling poison
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