Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
Manufacturers can legally add brominated vegetable oil (BVO) to citrus-flavored beverages in the United States and Canada in controlled amounts (no more than 15 parts per million (ppm) by weight). However, BVO is banned in more than 100 countries. The US Food and Drug Administration classifies it as “suspect.” In 1990, the United Kingdom banned bromate in bread, and in 1994, Canada did the same. Brazil also recently outlawed bromide in flour products.
Bromine is extracted from sea water and is deadly in either liquid or vapor form. Bromines are endocrine disruptors and are part of the halide family of elements, which also includes fluorine, chlorine, and iodine. If you are exposed to a lot of bromine, the body cannot retain iodine as it should. According to some experts, this iodine deficiency causes an increased risk for cancers of the breast, thyroid gland, ovary, and prostate.
Symptoms of bromine toxicity
Bromine is a central nervous system depressant and can lead to psychological symptoms, such as acute paranoia. It is estimated that no less than 20% of all hospital admissions for acute paranoid schizophrenia between 1920 and 1960 actually were misdiagnosed brominism. Until 1975, bromine was used in sedatives.
Other symptoms of bromine toxicity include:
- Skin rashes
- Severe acne
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- A metallic taste in the mouth
- Cardiac arrhythmia
Where bromine is found
Bromine is found in:
- Bakery goods (used in flour as a “dough conditioner” called potassium bromate)
- Soft drinks (including Mountain Dew®, Gatorade®, Sun Drop®, Squirt®, Fresca®, and other citrus-flavored sodas) in the form of BVO
- Certain medications, including some inhalers and nasal sprays
- Hair dyes
- Textile dyes
- Fire retardants
- Hot tub and swimming pool treatments
Some companies, such as Pepperidge Farm®, make their products using only unbromated flour.
BVO is a vegetable oil which has had its density increased to that of water by combining it with bromine. BVO is used in:
- Soft drinks
- Citrus-flavored beverages
- Ice cream
- Baked goods
It is feared that bromide ions are very slowly released when brominated oils are metabolized. Bromide is proven to collect in the adipose cells and organ fat of laboratory pigs and rats, as well as in humans, when they are fed brominated oil. Comparatively, it is said that a person weighing 165 pounds would need to drink 353 12-ounce cans of soda/day for 42 consecutive days to have detectable bromide in the fat cells. BVO was considered at the Ninth Food and Health Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee Meeting of Food Additives, but was not evaluated because of lack of data.
Specific research findings related to BVO include:
- Rats fed brominated maize oil for 25 weeks accumulated bromine to a maximum of 10,000 ppm in their body fat after 8 weeks. For the 17 remaining weeks, this level remained stable. Only 30% of the bromine disappeared during 8 weeks on a normal diet, and no change was measured during the first 2 of these 8 weeks. When the rats were starved, the bromine concentration in body fat increased and the lipid-bound bromine was not mobilized.
- Five groups of two to four rats were fed brominated olive oil at levels of 15,000, 10,000, 5,000, 3,000, and 1,000 milligrams (mg)/kilogram (kg) of body weight each day. All of the rats in the three highest dose groups were dead by the day 3 or 4. Those rats receiving 3,000 mg/kg died by the day 8. Those receiving the lowest level survived 10 days. No pathological lesions were found at autopsy when compared to control group rats, who received plain olive oil.
- Male rats were dosed with brominated cottonseed oil at levels of 2,500, 5,000, and 10,000 mg/kg each day. After 4 days, all rats on the highest levels, and three out of five on the middle dose, had died. The surviving rats and those on the lowest dose were lethargic, had decreased body temperature, and had decreased respiratory output.
- When three groups of 16 young rats were given either 0.5% brominated olive oil, plain olive oil, or 0.22% sodium bromide (equivalent to the total bromine in oil), no significant differences from controls were noted in regards to growth, hematology, urine analysis, or histological examination of the liver and kidney.
- Five groups of 16 male and 16 female rats consumed brominated maize oil for 90 days at 0%, 0.05%, 0.2%, and 0.8%, with 0.8% of plain maize oil as the positive control. No significant effects on growth, hematological indices, renal function tests, or serum chemistry were noted. Maize oil caused a mild degree of fat deposition within the liver lobules. At the 0.2% and 0.8% levels, enlargement and fatty infiltration of the liver and kidneys was seen. Periportal fatty infiltration of the liver also was found in the group receiving 0.05% brominated maize oil. At the 0.8% level, the hepatocytes were enlarged and foamy. Lipid-bound bromine was found at all levels in adipose tissue after 13 weeks.
- Three groups of 20 male rats were fed a semipurified diet containing 0%, 0.5%, or 2.5% of brominated cottonseed oil for 80 days. Growth and food utilization were impaired at the 2.5% level. The heart, kidneys, and spleen were enlarged at this level, as well. The heart was enlarged at the 0.5% level. All of the rats had thyroid hyperplasia, myocarditis, fatty changes in the liver, arrested testicular development, changes to the epithelium of the renal tubules, and reduced liver enzyme activity.
- Groups of rats were fed 0, 0.02, 0.1, and 0.5% brominated cottonseed oil for 100 days. Those receiving the 0.5% oil developed enlarged hearts and lipid accumulation in the liver and heart. The hepatic drug metabolizing enzymes and isocitric dehydrogenase activity were normal, but the activity of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase was reduced at the 0.1% and 0.5% levels. Minimal liver pathology was observed, but even animals receiving 0.1% and 0.5% brominated cottonseed oil developed degenerative lesions of the heart.
- In another study of male and female rats, those receiving 0.5% brominated cottonseed, corn, olive, and sesame oils for 105 days developed degenerative heart lesions. These lesions progressed with myocytolysis and mild infiltration with mononuclears. Lipid accumulated in the liver. Microfollicular thyroid hyperplasia developed. Only two animals receiving 0.1% BVO developed mild myocardial charges. The heart weight of all animals receiving 0.5% increased, except for those receiving brominated olive oil. Those animals receiving brominated cottonseed oil developed a reduced capacity to metabolize palmitic acid.
- When groups of two miniature pigs were fed brominated maize oil for 42 days at 100 or 400 mg/kg/day, tissue analysis showed accumulation of lipid-bound bromine in adipose tissue, liver, spleen, adrenals, brain, kidney, and lymph nodes. No bromine was detected in either the serum or urine. A very slight accumulation of fat in the liver was seen.
- Bromine estimation in human adipose tissue and other organ fats from Holland, Germany, and the United Kingdom revealed high levels of lipid-bound bromine in people of countries allowing the usage of BVO as a food additive. Especially high levels were found in children younger than 15 years of age. This lipid-bound bromine increased in organ fat in an age-related manner, and levels were higher in the brain, liver, and spleen when compared to the adipose tissue. No chemical abnormalities were associated with this bromine storage.
Brominism is not common. In the past, it has occurred with chronic ingestion of bromide salts used as sleep medications. However, a patient recently presented with headache, fatigue, ataxia, and memory loss. These symptoms had worsened over the past month. It was discovered that the individual drank between 2 and 4 liters (L) of a soda containing BVO each day. During prior hospitalization and visits to the emergency room, his significantly elevated serum chloride level and negative anion gaps were overlooked. However, his right eyelid ptosis led to an extensive evaluation for a central nervous system lesion. His symptoms worsened until he was unable to walk. Eventually he was diagnosed with severe brominism (serum bromide level was 3180 mg/L). Saline loading was not helpful, but after undergoing several sessions of hemodialysis, his symptoms did improve.
References and recommended readings
Alice M. What is brominated vegetable oil and why do soda companies put it in their drink?
Available at: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1999/jul/29/what-brominated-vegetable-oil-and-why-do-soda-comp/.
Accessed May 12, 2011.
Carroll JE, Norris BJ, Villadiego A, Wheeler SD. Brominated vegetable oil myopathy: inhibition at multiple sites. Muscle Nerve. 1984;7:642-646.
Horowitz BZ. Bromism from excessive cola consumption. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1997;35:315-320.
International Programme on Chemical Safety. Brominated vegetable oils: toxicological evaluation of some extraction solvents and certain other substances (FAO Nutrition Meetings Report Series No. 48A, WHO/FOOD ADD/70.39).
Available at: http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v48aje02.htm.
Accessed May 12, 2011.
Mercola J. Avoid this if you want to keep your thyroid healthy.
Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/thyroid-health_b_472953.html?view=screen.
Accessed May 12, 2011.
Oregon State University, College of Health and Human Sciences. Brominated vegetable oil (BVO).
Available at: http://food.oregonstate.edu/glossary/b/brominatedveg.html.
Accessed May 12, 2011.
Review Date 7/11