Is The Popular Food Preservatives- Sodium Benzoate Bad For Your Health?

10 minutes read. 

It believed the consumption of sodium benzoate may be capable of causing cancer. 

When you ingest sodium benzoate via food, it breakdown within the cell power house called mitochondria and produces hippurate (a benezoyl salt) and cleared by the kidney.

The safety of this popular preservatives have long been debated due to its ability to convert to benzene inside the body especially when it combined with ascorbic acid (Vit. C). Benzene is a unknown toxic and carcinogenic compound.

Although human studies show that ingestion of sodium benzoate may not negatively impact your blood glucose however there are other health concern such as cancer, Oxidative Stress and cell damages.

This article tell you everything you need to know about sodium benzoate including the adverse effect.

Feel to skim through.

In this article:

What’s sodium benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is a widely used preservative found in many industrially processed foods, soft drinks, cosmetics and medicine to increase their shelf life.

It’s an odorless, crystalline powder made by combining benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide.

Benzoic acid is a good preservative on its own, and combining it with sodium hydroxide helps it dissolve in products.

Sodium benzoate does not occur naturally, but benzoic acid is found in many plants, including cinnamon, cloves, tomatoes, berries, plums, apples, and cranberries.

Certain bacteria also can produce benzoic acid during fermentation of products such as yogurt.

Because of the controversial reports from scientists, some people claim that this preservative is harmless, while others link it to cancer and other health problems.

However, both human and animal studies have demonstrated the adverse effect of sodium benzoate. 

Uses In Different Industries

What Are The Uses Of Sodium Benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is the popular chemical used as preservatives in many food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry.  Check out for this ingredient on the label of any package food or body care products you buy.

Although some manufacturers may not indicate it in their label especially the pharmaceutical.

Sodium benzoate have many other functions. Some of which includes:

1. In Foods and Beverages industry

Well Sodium benzoate is the first preservative the Food and Drug Administration, a United States federal regulatory body, allowed in foods and to date have been a widely used food additive.

They classified it as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), meaning that experts consider it safe when used at moderation.

It’s approved internationally as a food additive and assigned the identifying number 211. For example, you may find it as “E211” in European food products.

Sodium benzoate inhibits the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, mold, and other microbes in food, thus deterring spoilage. It’s particularly effective in acidic foods.

Therefore, it’s commonly used in foods, such as soda, bottled lemon juice, pickles, jelly, salad dressing, soy sauce, bread and other condiments.

2. In Pharmaceutical Industry

Sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in some over-the-counter and prescription medications, particularly in liquid medicines like cough syrup.

In additional, it can be a lubricant in pill manufacturing and makes tablets transparent and smooth, helping them break down rapidly after you swallow them.

In the clinic, larger amounts of sodium benzoate may be prescribed to treat elevated blood levels of ammonia.

Ammonia is a byproduct of protein breakdown, and its blood levels may become dangerously high in certain medical conditions.

The chemical reduces high blood levels of the waste product ammonia, such as in people with liver disease or inherited urea cycle disorders — conditions that limit the excretion of ammonia via urine.

Other Clinical Uses Of Sodium Benzoate That Are Being Researched Include:


In a six-week study in people with schizophrenia, 1,000 mg of sodium benzoate daily alongside standard drug therapy reduced symptoms by 21% compared to placebo. A similar study also showed a benefit.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Animal and test-tube studies suggest that sodium benzoate may slow MS progression. This may include stimulating myelin production, the protective nerve covering damaged in MS.


In one six-week case study, a man with major depression given 500 mg of sodium benzoate daily had a 64% improvement in symptoms, and MRI scans showed improved brain structure related to depression.

Maple syrup urine disease: This inherited disease inhibits the breakdown of certain amino acids, making urine smell like syrup.

A study in one toddler found intravenous (IV) sodium benzoate to help in a crisis phase of the disease.

Panic Disorder

When a woman with panic disorder — characterized by anxiety, abdominal pain, chest tightness, and palpitations — took 500 mg of sodium benzoate daily, her panic symptoms were reduced by 61% in six weeks.

Despite potential benefits, sodium benzoate can have side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

In additional, medicinal doses of sodium benzoate may deplete your body of the amino acid carnitine, which plays a critical role in energy production. This may make it necessary to take a carnitine supplement.

For these reasons, sodium benzoate is only given as a prescription medication in carefully controlled doses and with ongoing monitoring.

3. In cosmetic industry.

Sodium benzoate is commonly used as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products, such as hair products, baby wipes, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

It also has industrial uses. One of its biggest applications is to deter corrosion, such as in coolants for car engines.

What’s more, it may be used as a stabilizer in photo processing and to improve the strength of some types of plastic.

Adverse Effects Of Sodium Benzoate

Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful To Your Body?

1. It May Convert To Cancer Causing Agent.

There are reports that sodium benzoate may negatively affect DNA.  Moreover, research shown that it increases DNA damage and mutation in human white blood cells.

According to studies, the compound did not affect cell replication, but it did reduce cell division.  

In addition, the research shows that sodium benzoate generates oxidative stress and has an adverse effect on the immune system, liver, kidneys, and fertility.

A large concern over the use of sodium benzoate is its ability to convert to benzene, a known carcinogen.

Benzene can form in soda and other drinks that contain both sodium benzoate and vitamin C (ascorbic acid).

Notably, diet beverages are more prone to benzene formation, as the sugar in regular sodas and fruit drinks may reduce its formation.

Other factors, including exposure to heat and light, as well as longer storage periods, can increase benzene levels.

In 2005, 10 out of 200 sodas and other fruit drinks tested by the FDA contained more than 5 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene — which is the limit for safe drinking water set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Particularly, fruit-flavored diet sodas and juice drinks exceeded 5 ppb of benzene. Since then, these ten drinks have either been reformulated to yield acceptable levels or have had sodium benzoate removed entirely.

The Food and Drug Administration has not published more recent product analyses but has stated that the low levels of benzene found in beverages don’t pose a health risk.

Still, long-term studies assessing the relationship between regularly consuming low levels of benzene and cancer risk are lacking.

Preliminary studies have evaluated other possible risks of sodium benzoate, which include:

2. Frequent Intake may lead to Inflammation

Animal studies suggest that sodium benzoate can activate inflammatory pathways in the body in direct proportion to the amount consumed. This includes inflammation promoting cancer development.

3. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

A study of college students linked ADHD with higher intake of sodium benzoate in beverages. The additive has also been linked to ADHD in children in some studies.

Appetite control: In a test-tube study of mouse fat cells, exposure to sodium benzoate decreased the release of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone.

The decrease was 49–70%, in direct proportion to the exposure.

4. Oxidative stress

Test-tube studies suggest that the higher the concentration of sodium benzoate, the more free radicals are created. Free radicals can damage your cells and increase chronic disease risk.

5. Allergies

A small percentage of people may experience allergic reactions — such as itching and swelling — after consuming foods or using personal care products that contain sodium benzoate.

More research, particularly in people, is needed to confirm these initial findings.

Related: 10 Ways Artificially Carbonated Drinks Affect Your Health

Related: What’s Food Allergy? Causes, Symptoms, and Natural Treatment

How Much Of Sodium Benzoate Is Harmful?

The FDA allows up to a 0.1% concentration of sodium benzoate by weight in foods and beverages. If used, it must be included in the ingredient list.

Your body doesn’t accumulate sodium benzoate. Rather, you metabolize and excrete it in your urine within 24 hours — which contributes to its safety.

The WHO has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) level for sodium benzoate to 0–2.27 mg per pound (0–5 mg per kg) of body weight. People generally don’t exceed the ADI through a normal diet.

Still, some people may be more sensitive to this additive. Consult a doctor for appropriate testing if you suspect you have an allergy to sodium benzoate

As for sodium benzoate in personal care products, the Environmental Working Group ranks the additive at a hazard level of 3 on a scale of 0 to 10 — meaning that overall risk of its use is relatively low.


Sodium benzoate is a widely used preservative found in many industrially processed foods, soft drinks, cosmetics and medicine to increase their shelf life.

Although human studies show that ingestion of sodium benzoate may not negatively impact your blood glucose however there are other health concern such as cancer, Oxidative Stress and cell damages.

Sodium benzoate can also be use as medication in certain health condition as mentioned above.

One of the major issue about sodium benzoate is that it can react with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to form benzene a known carcinogenic compound. So bad enough many soft drinks contain ascorbic as an ingredients. You see the hook.

I advise you highly reduce intake of carbonate drink especially those that contain vitamin C and sodium benzoate. Always check the label for guide.

I hope you get the value worth your time, I appreciate the time you spend with me. Leave a comment below if you find this article helpful and don’t forget to drop your question, opinion or criticism if any. Cheers!


The content provided in Living Good is for informational and educational purpose only. It’s not intended to provide medical advice or take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal doctor. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Living Good takes no responsibility for possible health consequences of any person(s) reading or following the information in this educational content. Viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over the counter medication, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Spread the message