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 27, 2012 7:19AM

I guess now we will have to get a perscription for such things because stupid Americans can't control themselves and realize this **** isn't meant to be consumed morning, noon and night!

Dec 14, 2012 9:53PM
That's why I drink Gatorade for a hangover, it puts out the fire
Dec 14, 2012 8:24PM
Look. I was a Pepsi addict for Most of my life so far, i'm 23, and i was drinking in excess of 100 ounces a day and it took years before any symptoms at all arose and even then i had stomach problems and never turned blue or fell over dead. Now as an alternative to the caffeine that was causing the problem i drink Gatorade and i drink 32-64 ounces a day that's 1-2 bottles. That's still less than the pepsi and with how long pepsi's effects took to show i seriously doubt anyone on this planet has anything to worry about from a liquid form of bromine. Oh and don't forget you use bromine to treat most hot tubs instead of chlorine. Just saying.
Dec 14, 2012 8:08PM
Mountain Dew also contained brominated vegetable oil.
Dec 14, 2012 7:33PM
This is very shoddy journalism, Jason...full of pseudo-science and false conclusions. This level of unprofessionalism has become all too common with these blog-style journals.
Dec 14, 2012 6:14PM
It's been shown that drinking too much water can poison you and even kill you. Rule of thumb: everything in moderation. Go ahead - search for ""
Dec 14, 2012 6:09PM
And we wonder why we all get cancer or why a high percentage of our kids have autism, ADD, or crazy food allergies....  25 years ago all of those things were relatively rare.   hmmm.....connection maybe?
Dec 14, 2012 5:02PM
There is also another flame retardent in Gatorade. It's called water.  It is actually the most used flame retardant in the world. People, just because something is used for one purpose doesn't automatically mean it should not be used for something else as well.
Dec 14, 2012 4:31PM
When you do the prep for a colonoscopy, the Dr. will tell you to drink three large bottles of gatorade with miralax in them before the procedure, is there something safer we could drink besides the gatorade???  Most people think the Dr. knows what is best for us ; )
Dec 14, 2012 4:22PM
THE FDA DON't CARE-they are in the companys pocket.,,
Dec 14, 2012 4:17PM

My neighbor is a level 5 vegan ( Won't eat anything that casts a shadow) He looks like a cadaver...... The only active thing he does is move his vocal chords........ You-all did not ask me  BUT here is the answer to ALL food problems....... MODERATION........


(Pass me that big mac)

Dec 14, 2012 4:17PM

Tried it once when it first came out.  AND IT SUCKED!!

Guess I was right that it was not worth my HARD EARNED money.

Need to rehydrate?  TRY WATER, FOOLS.

Dec 14, 2012 4:15PM
Think Your Government (FDA)is looking out for the consumer, Nope They are all About $$$$. I am sure these companies give large donations to them to approve the use.  Large Companies don't care if you get sick or die from their product if they save a few cents. 

Boycott the large companies , they only thing they understand is $$$
Dec 14, 2012 4:13PM
It really does'nt matter.all the crap we put in our bodies is gonna kill us from cancer anyway.what are ya supposed to do?we are lab rats.i love g2
Dec 14, 2012 3:49PM

Not Much Is Safe Anymore. People Who Think They Do Not Need To Worry Because They Think They Eat Healthy But There Are Chemicals In EVERYTHING.

Milk Is Basically Stripped Of All Nutrients Then They Add Artificial Things Back In As Vitamins So You Say Ok Ill Drink Soy Milk, Thats Healthy - WRONG. They Use Chemicals To Extract The Milk From The Soy.

Meat Is Loaded With Chemical Pumped Into The Animal For Growth.

Ok So You Say Well I Only Drink Water. Do You Know Whats In Your Water? Its A Chemical Dump Including Growth Hormones, Estrogen, Drugs  & Millions Of Other Chemical. Think About It - All Your Soaps, Shampoos & Other Things Go Down Your Drain. Soaps & Shampoos Are Loaded With Estrogen. They End Up In Your Water. Then There Are People Who Flush Prescription Drugs & Birth Control Pills Down Thier Toilets. This Also Ends Up In The Water Supply. Check Out Studies On Our Rivers & Lakes. Our Government KNOWS This But They Dont Care Cuz They See It As A Way To Control The Population By FEMINIZING Men. This Explains the " Metrosexual" Male. I Also Know Of Many Males Who All Of A Sudden At Age 40-50 Start Growing Breasts. Not Fat, Real Female Breasts. Hence The Term Man Boobs. This is Occuring Often But Its Not Fully Big News Yet Because Most Guys Are Not Going To Admit They Have Boobs.

Ive Read Reports By Doctors Who Say They Have Seen An Increase Of 250%  In Male Breast Growth In Past 15 Years.

The Chemical Used In Plastics You Microwave Food In Is Loaded With Estrogen Too. That Leaches Into Your Food.

Since I Started Researching This Few Years Ago I Was Amazed At How We Have Become An Over Estrogen Heavy Country. Its Alarming How Many Things We Eat Drink Or Have Contact With Is Estrogen Laden. And Our GOVERNMENT KNOWS IT.

So Be Careful, Purify Your Water, Grow As Much Food As Possible, Buy Meats From Amish, Mennonites, Free Range Farmers & Others Who Do NOT Use Chemicals.

Dec 14, 2012 3:42PM
If you only knew what things are put in your food / drinks that you consume?
Dec 14, 2012 3:40PM
WATER is a fire retardant.  Lets start a panic about drinking WATER!!!!
Dec 14, 2012 3:28PM
I wondered why people who drank Gatorade never spontaneous human combustion
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