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Cirrhosis Warning: Caution Behind the Wheel

Sodium Benzoate: Reducing Soda’s Harm to the Liver

To keep soft drinks fresh and prevent harmful bacteria from growing, sodium benzoate has been used in soft drinks for many years. However, discover why this common preservative has been implicated in being a detriment to our health – and find out how you can help minimize any potential toxic and mitochondrial damage from sodium benzoate.

By accelerating the course of liver disease, drinking soda may contribute to the decline of your health. Once diagnosed with liver disease, the overarching therapeutic goal is working to prevent your condition from worsening. With the progression of liver disease, the quantity of functioning liver cells diminishes, causing liver fibrosis and – ultimately – cirrhosis. Additionally, non-functioning, cirrhotic liver cells are more prone to mutating into cancer than healthy, vibrant ones. Protecting the deterioration of liver health helps your liver cells function at the highest level possible.

Also known as disease management, protecting your liver is typically met with learning how to live healthfully, by instituting the following six, lifestyle changes:

1.    Emphasize the importance of restful sleep
2.    Exercise regularly
3.    Minimize stress and learn how to relieve it
4.    Choose nourishing food and beverages
5.    Avoid detrimental food and beverages
6.    Take herbal supplements to help preserve liver health

As part of the typical American’s beverage preference, soda belongs on a list of items to avoid when managing liver disease. The list of ingredients in some soft drinks that are controversial for promoting a healthful lifestyle, include high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, caffeine, phosphoric acid and, most recently put under the microscope, sodium benzoate.

Sodium Benzoate
Due to its ability to keep soft drinks fresh and prevent harmful bacteria from growing, sodium benzoate has been used in soft drinks for many years. While the food agencies in the United States and Europe approve sodium benzoate as a safe substance, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. This common preservative has been implicated in being a detriment to our health by possibly forming a toxic chemical and by causing human DNA damage.

1.    Creating a Toxic Chemical – In order to preserve liver health, people managing liver disease strive to avoid ingesting anything toxic. In 2006, fear around sodium benzoate revolved around evidence of its potential to cause cancer when combined with ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C. Under the right conditions, the combination of sodium benzoate and vitamin C can create the carcinogenic chemical, benzene.

Linked to cancer in humans, benzene is a chemical released into the air from automobile emissions and burning coal and oil. Benzene is also used extensively in industries producing chemicals, dyes, detergents, synthetic fibers, solvents, rubber and some plastics. Workers exposed to these substances are at a high risk of developing cancer, due to their chronic benzene exposure. Following the British Food Standards Agency investigation of this allegation, four soft drinks were pulled from store shelves in the United Kingdom due to high levels of benzene. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported finding a high level of benzene in five of the 100 soft drinks and beverages tested:

·    Safeway Select Diet Orange
·    AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage
·    Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange
·    Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail
·    Crush Pineapple

The FDA said that after alerting these companies about the high levels of benzene in their beverage, all agreed to reformulate their drinks.

2.    DNA Damage – Damage to the DNA of a liver cell can foster that cell’s death and possibly create a cancerous cell. Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology at Britain’s Sheffield University, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the sodium benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the “power station” of cells known as the mitochondria. According to Piper, “these chemicals (sodium benzoate) have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it, they knock it out altogether. The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously.”

Contributing to the advancement of liver disease, mitochondrial damage is typically associated with aging and alcohol abuse. However, we now know that even a seemingly innocuous can of soda can contribute to the breakdown of liver health.

Harm Reduction
While it is easy to be disarmed by yet another of soda’s ingredients, there is hope in minimizing any potential toxic and mitochondrial damage from sodium benzoate. A single supplement containing NT Factor along with a milk thistle supplement acts as a one-two punch to protect the liver. About these two ingredients:

1.    Milk Thistle – This herb has been used for centuries to protect liver cells from toxic infiltration. By strengthening the cell wall of hepatocytes (liver cells), milk thistle is able to prevent poisonous substances such as benzene from entering and damaging the cell.

2.    NT Factor – Clinically proven to reduce fatigue by up to 40 percent, NT Factor actually repairs damaged mitochondria. Based on Lipid Replacement Technology, this food-based, nutritional supplement strengthens cells on a molecular level. By combining nutrients needed for healthy cell membranes with phosphoglycolipids, NT Factor prevents attacks by free radicals and restores cell membrane health to minimize any damage done by sodium benzoate.

While there have been some reports of large soft drink companies reformulating their beverages to completely eliminate benzene-creating potential, these rumors remain unconfirmed. Since any exposure to this known carcinogen carries a risk to those with liver disease, Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, advises taking the following precautions:

·    Read ingredient labels. Beverages that combine benzoate salts (listed as sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate) with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can set the stage for benzene formation.

·    If you do buy beverages with that combination of ingredients, store them in a cool place and out of direct light. (Because heat has been implicated in the formation of benzene.)

One way to optimize your liver management plan is by thoroughly researching everything you ingest to avoid consuming a potentially harmful liver substance. However, an infrequent bottle of soda won’t hurt anyone. Another approach is to be sensible in your food and beverage intake, make every effort to institute the six healthful lifestyle changes and supplement with NT Factor and milk thistle. With these supplements, you are supplying your liver with protection on a cellular level, giving it more power to help its cells function optimally – even with the occasional consumption of a soft drink.

Efrati C, et al., Effect of sodium benzoate on blood ammonia response to oral glutamine challenge in cirrhotic patients: a note of caution, The American Journal of Gastroenterology, December 2000., Benzene in Soft Drinks, Retrieved March 10, 2010, Consumers Union, 2010., Caution, Some Soft Drinks May Seriously Harm Your Health, Martin Hickman, Independent News and Media Unlimited, May 2007., Study: Soft Drink Ingredient Sodium Benzoate May Lead to Cirrhosis, Parkinson's, Griff, May 2007., Too Much Sizzle in Soda?, Andrew Weil, MD, Weil Lifestyle LLC, July 2007., Nutritional Therapeutics, Inc., 2007., Soda Ingredients Linked to Cirrhosis and Cancer, Organic Consumers Association, 2007., Old Preservative Study Sparks New Media Fizz,, June 2007.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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