"...sodium benzoate (E211) has a destructive effect on
living cells, destroying the DNA in the mitochondria. ...

Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern
about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C
in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance."


Caution: Some soft drinks may seriously harm your health

Expert links additive to cell damage

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Published: 27 May 2007

A new health scare erupted over soft drinks last night amid
evidence they may cause serious cell damage. Research from a
British university suggests a common preservative found in
drinks such as Fanta and Pepsi Max has the ability to switch
off vital parts of DNA.

The problem -- more usually associated with ageing and alcohol
abuse -- can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and
degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.

The findings could have serious consequences for the hundreds
of millions of people worldwide who consume fizzy drinks. They
will also intensify the controversy about food additives,
which have been linked to hyperactivity in children.

Concerns centre on the safety of E211, known as sodium
benzoate, a preservative used for decades by the 74bn global
carbonated drinks industry. Sodium benzoate derives from
benzoic acid. It occurs naturally in berries, but is used in
large quantities to prevent mould in soft drinks such as
Sprite, Oasis and Dr Pepper. It is also added to pickles and

Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about
cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft
drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance. A Food
Standards Agency survey of benzene in drinks last year found
high levels in four brands which were removed from sale.

Now, an expert in ageing at Sheffield University, who has been
working on sodium benzoate since publishing a research paper
in 1999, has decided to speak out about another danger.
Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and
biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living
yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him:
the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the
"power station" of cells known as the mitochondria.

He told The Independent on Sunday: "These chemicals have the
ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to
the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out

"The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and
if you damage it -- as happens in a number if diseased states
-- then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And
there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to
damage to this DNA -- Parkinson's and quite a lot of
neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process
of ageing."

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) backs the use of sodium
benzoate in the UK and it has been approved by the European
Union but last night, MPs called for it to investigate

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat chair of Parliament's
all-party environment group said: "Many additives are
relatively new and their long-term impact cannot be certain.
This preservative clearly needs to be investigated further by
the FSA."

A review of sodium benzoate by the World Health Organisation
in 2000 concluded that it was safe, but it noted that the
available science supporting its safety was "limited".

Professor Piper, whose work has been funded by a government
research council, said tests conducted by the US Food and Drug
Administration were out of date.

"The food industry will say these compounds have been tested
and they are complete safe," he said. "By the criteria of
modern safety testing, the safety tests were inadequate. Like
all things, safety testing moves forward and you can conduct a
much more rigorous safety test than you could 50 years ago."

He advised parents to think carefully about buying drinks with
preservatives until the quantities in products were proved
safe by new tests. "My concern is for children who are
drinking large amounts," he said.

Coca-Cola and Britvic's Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi all contain
sodium benzoate. Their makers and the British Soft Drinks
Association said they entrusted the safety of additives to the

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited