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There’s been a lot of talk lately about BVO (Brominated Vegetable Oil) in different packaged beverages; in fact, just last week, we blogged about food and drink ingredients that have been banned in many countries but are still legal in the US.  BVO happens to be one of those substances.  BVO is a vegetable oil that has the element bromine bonded to it; and it is currently used in many citrus-based drinks to keep citrus flavors from separating out.  The high density of BVO helps the natural fat-soluble citrus flavors stay suspended in the drink, and it’s been used in the beverage industry since 1931.

In 1958, BVO was “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but in 1970, that distinction was withdrawn.  There are currently restrictions on the use of BVO in food and drinks, but it is allowable.  Some common drinks that have contained (or currently do contain) BVO are Mountain Dew, Fanta, Powerade, Fresca, Squirt, and Gatorade.  Gatorade (a product of PepsiCo) was petitioned in 2012 to stop adding BVO to its sports drinks.  The argument was that since Gatorade is already sold sans BVO in countries where BVO is banned, there was already a formula for the drink; therefore, producing that same formula in the US would be no great hardship.  In January 2013, PepsiCo agreed to stop using BVO in Gatorade but still adds it to their product, Mountain Dew.

So, what’s the big deal with BVO?  It stems from the addition of bromine (which is also found in brominated flame retardants).  It appears that bromine builds up in the fatty tissues of the body.  There have been some reports of memory loss and skin and nerve damage by those drinking excessive amounts of soda containing BVO (2 liters or more/day), but more research is needed to confirm these reports.  At any rate, drinking 2 liters of any kind of soda/day is not recommended by anyone.  Early studies show that the build-up of bromine in the body can cause hormonal issues, which can lead to problems with the development of the brain in children, infertility, thyroid function, and possibly cancer.

There are alternatives that beverage manufacturers can use, but the better choice is to reduce (or eliminate) the amount of soda and sports drinks containing BVO that you ingest.  The better choice, as most of us know, is water.  At the very least, take a look at the ingredients on any citrus-flavored beverage that you consider drinking.  The effects of small amounts of BVO are still being studied, so for now, avoidance is your best bet.

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