BVO is BVOver: Possible Citrus Soda Ingredient Ban by the FDA

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Staff Writer: Maya Arruda


Who here is a fan of citrus soda?

American citrus soda, not that European stuff. If you’ve ever visited that continent, you can taste the difference between the two, not just the soda but other foods. It’s a very distinct change. 

European food is just built different. Literally. 

European companies are generally subjected to harsher regulations than American companies, especially regarding ingredients and preservatives. In America, fewer laws and mandates govern what companies can and cannot include in their products. 

However, recently, America has been following the way of Europe regarding brominated vegetable oil (BVO for short). 

On November 2nd, the FDA put its foot down and proposed a ban on using BVO as a preservative in citrus-flavored soda after ruling it unsafe for human consumption. Although the substance has been banned in multiple other countries for its dangerous effects on health, it is still being determined if their ban will go into effect.

Being proactive on the issue, California had already placed a state-wide ban on BVO in October. That ban is set to come into effect in 2027. 

So why is BVO bad for you? 

Studies about the negative impacts of BVO started in 1972 in rats. In one of these 1972 studies, rats fed diets with 0.5% BVO exhibited heart damage after only 105 days and alterations in their livers; additionally, female rats with 0.5% BVO diets were getting thyroid problems more often than they should have. 

More studies about BVO came out in the 1980s. And, of course, they found more ways that BVO messed rats up. 

In 1983, they found that BVO also impacted reproduction and behavior in rats. Rats with high BVO diets (2%) couldn’t reproduce. Even at 1% BVO, the rats had difficulty conceiving, and the offspring that were born had such high mortality rates that the researchers stopped collecting data after the baby rats stopped weaning because not enough had survived to collect data. The offspring from that group also had “impaired growth and severe behavioral impairments.” The 0.5% group had kids that lived longer but with equally severe behavioral conditions as the  1% group.

You would think that after these studies came out, BVO would be banned from human consumption immediately. But here we are in 2023, and BVO-containing drinks are still readily available in your local grocery store. 

It took until 2022 for the FDA to produce its study on the effects of BVO on rats, and its findings finally convinced the department that, hey, maybe we shouldn’t eat this shit. 

BVO has high amounts of Bromine, a halogen needed in the body for proper tissue development and basement membrane structure. If you like your organs the way they are, you need bromine. 

Like most things involving human health, you need just the right amount. Too little, and you die. Too much, and your tissues start getting damaged. 

Eating large quantities of BVO pushes you into the “too much bromine” category, and the excess bromine ends up accumulating in various organs and damaging them. In the most recent 2022 study, livers, kidneys, clitorises, and thyroids were all impacted by eating BVO — especially the thyroid. 

We need working thyroids. They’re essential. Thyroids produce metabolic hormones (T cells) that fight disease and are crucial to fertility. The worst part about thyroids is that they shrink with age, which is why older adults are more susceptible to illnesses.

Damage to the thyroid can impact all these necessary functions. To make it even worse, the type of damage BVO is doing to the thyroid induces hyperplasia in some of the rat studies. 

Hyperplasia, a.k.a. increased cell replication, is usually associated with cancer development. 

As a biologist who took immunology and cancer biology, I can testify that getting cancer in the organ that makes immune cells fight against cancer tends to end very badly.  

Hopefully, the FDA will go through with their BVO ban for the sake of human health. Then again, it’s the US government, and they don’t have the best record for making good decisions as of late.

Until the FDA ban passes (but I wouldn’t hold my breath), consumers should at least be vigilant to avoid BVO in the grocery stores. Luckily, some of the bigger beverage companies (Pepsi and Coca-Cola) have taken the initiative to remove BVO from their products.

Still, better safe than sorry.

BVO can still be found in Dr. Pepper Snapple Group’s Sun Drop soda as well as in smaller chains and generic citrus flavored sodas from companies such as Walmart and Dollar Tree.


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