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Sodium benzoate: uses and possible health problems

Uses of Sodium Benzoate

The sodium benzoate is a preservative incorporated into some soft drinks, packaged foods and personal care products, whose objective is to lengthen the expiration date.

Today, there is a double conception of this preservative, where some consider it a harmless substance and others relate it to serious health problems, such as cancer.

In this article we want to know in depth what is the scientific opinion of sodium benzoate, knowing its main uses and related security issues.

What is sodium benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is a food preservative used in processed products and beverages with the aim of extending its shelf life, although it also offers other interesting uses.

Chemically, it is a powder of crystalline appearance and without odor elaborated from the combination of benzoic acid more sodium hydroxide. Benzoic acid is a great preservative on its own, but when combined with sodium hydroxide it facilitates its dissolution with food.

However, sodium benzoate is not produced naturally, although it is obtained from a large number of plants such as cinnamon, tomato, cloves, some berries, plums, apples and Blueberries.

In the process of fermentation of dairy, encouraged by some bacteria to produce yogurt, the by-product of benzoic acid is also obtained.

Industrial uses of benzoate

In addition to the food use that is given to sodium benzoate, it is also used to stabilize some medications, cosmetic products, for personal care and industrial products.

Food & Beverage

Sodium benzoate is one of the first preservatives that came to the food industry, and one of the most used.  It is considered and recognized as a safe additive, which means that experts consider it safe at the recommended doses.

It has international approval as a food additive and is assigned the identification number E-211 in European foods.

Its action is based on inhibiting the development of bacteria that can be pathogenic to humans and animals. Its bactericidal action is enhanced in acidic foods. Therefore, it is massively used in acidic soft drinks, such as pickled juices, gelatins, salad sauces, soy and other condiments.


Liquid medicines, such as cough syrups, they can carry preservative agents to guarantee a longer shelf life, and therefore they can carry sodium benzoate among their components.

It also has the function of acting as a lubricant in the preparation of tablets and tablets, facilitating their dissolution when we introduce them into the mouth.

At the health level, sodium benzoate is used in higher concentrations when it exists blood ammonia toxicity, a fact that occurs when protein decomposition occurs due to a previous problem.

Other uses

In cosmetics, sodium benzoate is used as a preservative agent for creams, lotions, baby wipes, gels, shampoos and toothpaste, among others.

Any element susceptible to deterioration due to the appearance of fungi and bacteria, can carry this additive.

In the automotive industry, it can also be used in refrigerants and oils, to prevent corrosion.

Possible health problems

In general, there is a great distrust of additives, considering them unnatural. We already saw the problems arising from carrageenate, and sodium benzoate also receives criticism. Given this, it is necessary to evaluate what scientific and rigorous information exists to see if the fear is unfounded.

Possible carcinogen?

A major concern in the population is the possible transformation of sodium benzoate into benzene-related substances, a potential carcinogen. This substance can be formed in soft drinks and other beverages that contain sodium benzoate together with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) (8 Trusted Source)

According to the Center for Food Security and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), of nearly 200 samples of soft drinks and other beverages tested between 2005 and May 2007, some products contained up to 5 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene.

However, these drinks that tested positive for this substance, have reformulated their process and guarantee a content of less than 1.5 ppb of benzene.

This substance can also be in water, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum allowable level in drinking water of 5 ppb of benzene.

The food regulatory agency considers that amounts lower than the commented doses do not pose a health risk. Still, long-term studies are needed to evaluate the relationship between regular consumption of low levels of benzene and the risk of some type of cancer.

Other possible health concerns

Scientific studies have evaluated other possible risks of sodium benzoate, including:

  • Inflammation: Animal studies confirm that sodium benzoate can activate inflammatory pathways in the body depending on the amount of sodium benzoate consumed. This includes inflammation that promotes the development of cancer.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a scientific study linked ADHD to higher intake of sodium benzoate in beverages in college students.
  • Relationship with appetite: In a laboratory study with mouse fat cells, exposure to sodium benzoate decreased the release of leptin, a hormone that reduces appetite. The decrease was in direct proportion to exposure.
  • Oxidative stress: Test-tube studies suggest that the higher the concentration of sodium benzoate, the greater the number of free radicals are created. These free radicals can create cellular damage by oxidation and increase the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Allergies: there is a small percentage of people who may suffer allergic reactions (itching and bloating) after eating food or using cosmetics containing sodium benzoate.

However, the entire source of scientific information needs to be further developed in the long term in order to reach conclusions with greater force.

Benefits of Sodium Benzoate

Not everything is negative references regarding the use of sodium benzoate, since there are scientific studies that relate its consumption with the treatment of conditions and diseases.

This additive reduces blood ammonia levels, something that usually occurs in people with liver disease or urea cycle disorders and cannot eliminate this substance through the urine.

Some beneficial uses of sodium benzoate in the investigation phase are as follows:

  • Schizophrenia: in a 6-week study, taking 1,000 mg of sodium benzoate daily in addition to standard drug therapy reduced schizophrenia-related symptoms by 21% compared to placebo.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Preliminary animal studies link sodium benzoate to delayed progression of multiple sclerosis. This may be related to the production of myelin, the protective covering of the nervous system.

Despite the possible benefits discussed, they are still in the monitoring phase and need more information and development to draw conclusions.

Read more: Is gellan gum safe in our diet?

General Security

The health administration allows the use of up to 0.1% w/w of sodium benzoate concentration in food and beverages. If used, it must be included in the list of ingredients and referred to on the label.

Our body does not accumulate sodium benzoate, since it is metabolized and excreted in the urine in an approximate period of 24 hours.

WHO has established the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sodium benzoate maximum of 5 mg/kg body weight. Through a normal and healthy diet, it is impossible to exceed this dose of concentration.

However, there may be people with greater sensitivity and have negative effects with significantly lower amounts. Therefore, it will be necessary to consult a doctor to perform a diagnostic test if it is suspected appropriate if you are Pecha that is allergic to sodium benzoate.


Sodium benzoate is considered safe provided that the daily amount of 5 mg/kg body weight is not exceeded. In some cases, this additive has been linked to an increased risk of inflammation, ADHD, and oxidative stress problems, but more research is needed.

In any case, it is always advisable to reduce the intake of processed foods and sugary drinks, looking for more natural options.


About Andrew Parkinson

Andrew Parkinson is a highly accomplished pharmacist with a passion for improving healthcare. With a wealth of experience in both community and clinical pharmacy settings, he's known for his dedication to patient well-being. Mr. Parkinson actively engages in medication management, offering personalized solutions and promoting better health outcomes. He has also played a pivotal role in educating patients on proper medication usage and potential interactions. Andrew's commitment to advancing the field of pharmacy and ensuring safe and effective drug therapies has garnered him recognition as a trusted and invaluable healthcare professional, making a positive impact on countless lives.

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