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 3:25PM
Is Gatorade owned by conservatives? Why else would MSN go out of its way to smear the product. Then again,..maybe Gatorade just didn't want to buy MSN advertising.
Dec 14, 2012 3:21PM
even water has chemicals in it that aren't good for you.
Dec 14, 2012 3:19PM
It has always tasted like $hit.....Water is the only way....and are dumb a$$ buy it by the bottle...
Dec 14, 2012 3:17PM
Get a life, people worry freak about their health but healthy people die everyday while unhealthy people live longer so it is the body that can't take or can take.  It doesn't work for every body the same way.  You are what you eat hence, you are what you drink.  Be merry and stop worrying what all the media are telling you because most of the medias are evil!
Dec 14, 2012 3:02PM
Now I know the Blue Man Group's secret.  If you hippies had your way we'd all be eating bark and rocks.  I'll take my chances with Mt Dew.
Dec 14, 2012 2:48PM
In the 1930's Congress was looking at our food and trying to figure out a way to replace the natural minerals that were being depleted from the soil by farming.  The concern about our health gave way to the science of chemicals and how they can grow more product and faster.  If anybody is seriously interested in getting the nutrients in your body the way it was intended and designed, might I suggest taking a look at the only company I know of that delivers what we all need in order to stay healthy and enjoy life:

You will need the following number to try these products:   US10933273
Dec 14, 2012 2:25PM
To say that because it is brominated it contains flame retardant is similar to saying that hydrogenated oil is nuclear because it contains the malignant "hydrogen" found in the H-bomb. Sure, it is artificial, sure, it is not good, sure, the writer is an alarmist ignorant. 
Dec 14, 2012 2:23PM
*To say that because it is brominated it contains flame retardant is similar to saying that hydrogenated oil is nuclear because contains the malignant "hydrogen" found in the H-bomb. Sure, it is artificial, sure, it is not good, sure, the writer is an alarmist ignorant. 
Dec 14, 2012 2:19PM
people have been drinking gatorade for years and no one has ever complained.  Please get over it.  If you don't feel safe don't drink it.   Don't drink Mountain Dew or anything that consists of a citrus base.
Dec 14, 2012 1:37PM
I personaly like the lemon/lime gatoraid, it's really good with a shot of hosea quervo gold mixed in,talk about getting those electrolites back,um,um,um! Think I'll have one as we speak,come on this is bad for you? Tastes pretty good to me!
Dec 14, 2012 1:35PM
It's got what fire resistant  plants crave.
Dec 14, 2012 1:34PM
Now about marachino cherries.  You all love those things right?  How they are made is not so nice.   Royal Ann cherries are brought into the plant and dumped into a tank with bleach.  The cherries are bleached white.  Very very gross looking white.  Then either red dye number 7 or 12, depending upon where the cherries are to be shipped is added to give them "color".   Now go ahead and have that marachino cherry.  Sorry I do not need to vomit again so I will pass.
Dec 14, 2012 1:30PM
isn't baking soda a flame retardant too?
Dec 14, 2012 1:26PM
The only commonality between a flame retardent and brominated vegetable oil is that both contain bromine, a chemical element. So using MSN's reasoning PVC piping is as harmful to you as mustard gas as both contain chlorine.
Dec 14, 2012 1:08PM
Im drinking a Dew now. Brominated vegetable oil is on the label. A whole lot of nonsense over nothing. Dont you tree humpers have a fish , weed, insect, or bird to go freak out about?
Dec 14, 2012 1:00PM

I happen to like it, so I think i'll continue drinking it. So I get a little extra. Meh.

Dec 14, 2012 12:55PM
Ever ate a hot dog? Guess what's in it. :)
Dec 14, 2012 12:47PM
Food companies should not have to test for and report every possible minute substance that may be in their products, since many are naturally occurring and costs could be prohibitive, BUT they should be legally required to list all chemical and other ingredients that are purposefully added regardless of the quantity. Current labeling laws don't require disclosure of very small amounts since numbers below a certain percentage are rounded off and treated as zero. That may be OK for saying a product is fat free when it in fact does have a very tiny amount of fat, but not for a lot of the chemicals that manufacturers routinely leave off the labels.
Dec 14, 2012 12:44PM
Really??? Why are we learning about this now after years of drinking this chemical infested drink. These companies should be shut down for their lack of honesty and deceptive marketing practices. What is wrong with our government and FDA? Do their own families drink this stuff? We are so worried about other countries using chemical warfare, but what we are being subjected to regarding every poisonous chemical known to man being placed in every ounce of food we ingest is the same thing as mass genocide!! They say it's ok in minimal amounts, REALLY!! How can that be if every thing we eat contains them? When is enough enough?  I thought we lived in a democracy and were protected in some way by our trusting government officials and our food inspectors. I'm tired of these companies making millions off of the chemicals put in our foods, causing an epidemic in cancer and other health problems that we go broke paying for like cancer treatments, etc. that is caused by additives in our foods. It's disgusting!!!!!!!!!!!! Where are the regulations to protect the American people?
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