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Biotech Science

Some Soft Drinks May Damage Your DNA 643

Parallax Blue writes "The Independent is reporting new findings that indicate a common additive called sodium benzoate, found in soft drinks such as Fanta and Pepsi Max among others, has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA in a cell's mitochondria. From the article: 'The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it — as happens in a number of 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 aging.' European Union MPs are now calling for an urgent investigation in the wake of these alarming new findings."
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Some Soft Drinks May Damage Your DNA

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  • by pcmanjon ( 735165 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:30AM (#19289829)
    "uropean Union MPs are now calling for an urgent investigation in the wake of these alarming new findings"

    While the FDA in the United States is doing what? Standing by turning their cheek?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nacturation ( 646836 )

      While the FDA in the United States is doing what? Standing by turning their cheek?
      They're probably too busy drinking Mountain Dew [wikipedia.org] and Bawls [wikipedia.org] and their midichlorian count has been reduced by all the sodium benzoate in those drinks.
      • by pcmanjon ( 735165 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:38AM (#19289883)
        It's very similar to aspartame and the FDA's total refusal to do anything about it.

        Brain tumors and seizures in aspartame-fed animals indicate a possible risk to humans. The dictionary definition of safe means "not presenting or involving any danger or risk" (Webster's 877). Does this mean aspartame is not safe?

        Although aspartame was not tested on humans before its approval, it now has been tested on the public by default. All kinds of Americans eat aspartame products every day. We have been the guinea pigs in the testing of aspartame without even knowing it. A look at aspartame's ingredients and its devastating effects on human beings provide the evidence for avoiding all aspartame products.

        Too bad the FDA doesn't ban it, isn't it? I avoid any product with this ingredient like a plague.
        • by hazem ( 472289 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:00AM (#19290005) Journal
          When I was in the army, I was in a unit where we didn't run as much as I was used to and I was gaining weight. So I started drinking diet sodas instead of regular sodas. About that time, I started getting horrendous headaches.

          One day in the chow hall, the TV showed an article from Duke University (nearby, I was in North Carolina) that covered Aspertame triggering migraines. So, I conducted my own little experiment. Some days I would drink normal fattening soda. No headaches. Then I would drink diet soda - and terrible headaches.

          I started noticing other things - if I got bad headeaches, I would track back to see what I ate/drank. Sometimes, it was something like a gum (so many have aspartame to be safe for the teeth).

          So for many years, I did what I could to avoid Aspartame. In the last 6 months, I took it a step further and have eliminated MSG and High Fructose Corn Syrup. I occasionally crave a soda but that's rare now. The cool part is that I FEEL so much better. Not just headaches, but now that fuzziness and "hot flash" feeling I'd get in the afternoons is gone.

          And I've eliminated all fast food except the local Burgerville. I can't stand to touch McDonalds, Taco Bell, or Wendy's now. When I've succumbed to a craving, I felt like crap.

          I either eat organic/natural, at local places that prepare such food, and my addiction of choice now is tea with a bit of organic sugar for sweetener.

          I might not live any longer for it, but I FEEL much better for the time I am alive.
          • by mr_matticus ( 928346 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @09:09AM (#19291435)
            The reason why you feel like crap when eating something unusual is because you've allowed that consumption to lax and your body has adjusted to that diet. It does not follow that eating at Wendy's occasionally makes people ill. It makes YOU ill because your body is no longer accustomed to it.

            Along the same vein, vegetarians are encouraged to eat meat occasionally so that the enzymes that are intended to ingest it can remain in proper balance. If you're a vegetarian and never eat meat for years on end, but then one day you can't pass on that ham sandwich, it's going to hurt. That doesn't mean that people who eat meat are living a worse life.

            Likewise, if you grew up on a simple and narrow diet, say, for the sake of argument, something typical of a highland/steppe agrarian diet--grains and meat, and you suddenly ate spicy Indian food for a week, you'd probably have some digestive regrets.

            I'm not saying the opposite, either--eating fast food and sugar all the time is certainly not good for you. But if you make it a habit to eat a highly restricted diet, then breaking that diet will cause you pain. Eating an appropriate diet with moderation of all kinds of foods is no less healthy and far more fun. It's okay to eat at McDonald's sometimes if you like it. It's okay to order that six-chocolate pie on your birthday. It's okay to tear into that Haagen-Daaz when your week has gone to shit. It's habitual abuse of these foods that cause problems.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by DougWebb ( 178910 )
            Wendy's deli sandwiches are pretty good, and they offer naked potatoes too. That's really not bad, especially for a fast food joint.

      • from 1990 until as recently as 2006. Here's a link [fda.gov] This has to do with benzene formation in the actual can of soda from ascorbic acid and benz. acid reacting due to heat/light. They decided the amount was too small to cause harm. The importance of the finding is that it seems to imply that benzoic acid/benzene are BOTH safe in small amounts. Or if you want, that only benzene in small amounts is safe. This argument altogether skips a little known property of molecules such as benzene known as "nonpolarity"
    • by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @05:50AM (#19290483)
      > While the FDA in the United States is doing what? Standing by turning their cheek?

      Since the FDA is a government body, they are bound by contract to
      do nothing until:

      a) A patent has been infringed
      b) Someone has violated the DMCA
      c) The RIAA finds out someone copied Sodium Benzoate to CD
  • nothing new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:40AM (#19289897) Journal
    this is nothing new, sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in acidic foods and drinks and in the presence of citric acid it can evolve very small amounts of benzene. benzene is dangerous because it is what we call an intercalary mutagen- what that means is it can insert its self between the DNA helix grooves and that is what can mess up DNA copying and transcription [translation from DNA to RNA to proteins etc.] in the USA benzene is allowed at 10ppb but in soem states it can be lower [california is 5ppb] to give an idea of how much that is an olympic swimming pool is 25,000 gallons, 95,000 liters and so 10ppb would be about a gram of benzene taken by weight. soft drinks in other countries have been reported to have up to 85 ppb although this can be fixed by reducing the amount of sodium benzoate and or citric acid in combination. citric acid can be replaced by malic acid which imparts that sour flavor in drinks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      damn it was ascorbic acid not citric... anyway here's the wiki link with a little more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_benzoate [wikipedia.org]
  • Similar beyond they both preserve freshness?
  • by selex ( 551564 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:46AM (#19289929)
    ...What about Mountain Dew? Are we safe? Selex
  • Frogurt (Score:5, Funny)

    by lamasquerade ( 172547 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:52AM (#19289957)
    Shopkeeper: Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse!
    Homer: Ooh, that's bad.
    Shopkeeper: But it comes with a free frogurt!
    Homer: That's good.
    Shopkeeper: The frogurt is also cursed.
    Homer: That's bad.
    Shopkeeper: But you get your choice of toppings.
    Homer: That's good!
    Shopkeeper: The toppings contain potassium benzoate.
    [Homer looks puzzled]
    Shopkeeper: ...That's bad.
    Homer: Can I go now? ....and just to add some actual comment: with the constant uncovering of bad effects of things thought previously to be entirely safe I find myself beginning to side with the anti-GM people... I mean I don't think it's definitely harmful, but the positive effects are mainly economic (and so reletively uninteresting unless money turns you on)- why can't be just deal with the good old food we're used to and know isn't going to do anything bizarre to our bodies. Not just with GM but with over-processing of any kind. When you've got beverages being made in ways to minimise only cost and maximise only the positive reaction with our taste buds then you're going to get stuff like this.
    • Re:Frogurt (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:10AM (#19290057) Journal

      but the positive effects are mainly economic

      we have been genetically modifying foods in one way or another for hundreds of years- only now are we using genes from OTHER species. crops engineered to be resistant to a certain pest can reduce the amount of pesticide or [ergot fungus] that gets into the food supply. there are genes that over time have broken or exist in similar but uncrossable species that are very useful. in the case of yellow rice for example, a gene for beta carotene was introduced resulting in a rice that can help prevent blindness in third world countries where rice is a major food crop. the gene that produces vitamin C in mammals is broken in primates and other species that if corrected could prevent scurvy in malnourished nations. it is good to test and try to understand the effects of genetic engineering but to blindly fear it because of things like this is irresponsible
      • by saforrest ( 184929 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @06:21AM (#19290639) Journal
        the gene that produces vitamin C in mammals is broken in primates and other species that if corrected could prevent scurvy in malnourished nations. it is good to test and try to understand the effects of genetic engineering but to blindly fear it because of things like this is irresponsible

        You're not just talking about genetically engineering foods, but now humans? On a massive, global scale?

        1) Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for higher primates for a reason: our ancestors ate a lot of it, and thus no longer needed to produce it. These genes for synthesizing it that you want to "reactivate" haven't been expressed for millions of years, which means they haven't been selected on (to the same degree). For a programming analogy, how quickly does commented-out code become obsolete?

        It's not at all clear that we're still capable of synthesizing Vitamin-C, that it's just a matter of "turning on" a gene somewhere: it might require extensive implantation of non-primate mammalian DNA into our genomes. And this is not a small change.

        2) Who would research and administer this genetic re-engineering system? Big Pharmaceutical, that's who. You're naive if you think there's any good side to letting go about re-engineering the genes of any person, let alone impoverished people who are in less of a position to speak up about abuses.

        3) I frequently hear pitches like this, for certain types of technological solutions which could save the lives of the desperate poor. In addition to your suggestion, we could, for example:
          - i) genetically engineer a number of crops with higher yields, providing more food,
          - ii) blanket Africa with DDT, killing mosquitoes (and therefore preventing malaria transmission),
          - iii) actively destroy swampland in rural Africa and other tropical regions, to reduce the size of mosquito breeding grounds.
        The argument for these technologies (saved human lives) is easy to advance. There are various specific counterarguments to be used for specific cases, but there are two general counterarguments:

        A straightforward swap of human lives in exchange for some consequence we haven't defined or investigated is never a great idea. What if we replace all crops with engineered ones, but those are all wiped out ten years later by a plague that preys on the new genetic homogenity of these crops? What if there's something else that grows in swamps that, it turns out, we really need? The appeal to lives saved is always an emotional appeal, but there's no point to the trade if we don't know the price.

        The reasons for Third World poverty are not technological, but social and political. We could give more food to hungry people now; we don't need to wait till we get higher-yield crops. (To relate to your example, we could send Vitamin-C pills to malnurished nations now: surely this would be cheaper that a widespread program of genetic re-engineering!) And if we aren't giving it away now, aren't we fooling ourselves by thinking that we will when we have more to give away?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      why can't be just deal with the good old food we're used to and know isn't going to do anything bizarre to our bodies

      You mean like alcohol, saturated fats, or tobacco?

      Or, maybe you'd rather be hurt by mold or bacteria than by the preservatives that prevent them?

      When you've got beverages being made in ways to minimise only cost and maximise only the positive reaction with our taste buds then you're going to get stuff like this.

      You mean like stuff that one scientist claims is dangerous and is rightfully bein

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )
        "The fact is, we're living longer and healthier with all of this 'processed crap' than we ever did with 'good old food'."

        This statement bears repeating. While we may not be acting in what is the most ideally healthy way, our life expectancy has gone up, and continues to do so. In the last 100 years in the US, life expectancy at birth has gone from about 50 years (it varies with race and sex) to about 75 years. Talk about a significant improvement! You think that 25 used to literally be "mid life". Half your
        • Re:Frogurt (Score:5, Informative)

          by hankwang ( 413283 ) * on Sunday May 27, 2007 @07:18AM (#19290857) Homepage

          life expectancy at birth has gone from about 50 years [...] You think that 25 used to literally be "mid life". Half your life was likely over by 25.

          Life expectancy at birth includes child diseases that killed about 20% of the children before the age of 5. See page 6, fig 3 of the US life tables. [cdc.gov] Once you survived the first few years of your life, your life expectancy would increase considerably. See page 30 of the report: at the age of 25, your life expectancy was 65. Your midlife would be around the age of 34. Nowadays, the life expectancy only increases from 77.5 to 78.5 years between the age of 0 and 25 years.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by yakumo.unr ( 833476 )

          That can also be attributed to clean water, an abundance of food of any description, and significantly better healthcare.

          While pumping yourselves full of processed crap, and over sterilize your environment, you pump yourself with scientifically advanced other crap to cope with your suffering immune system.

          There are plenty of places in the world (Okinawa being one of particular note [okicent.org]) where they eat healthy fresh organic food every day, lowest heart disease rates, and have some of the longest and highest

        • Re:Frogurt (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tgd ( 2822 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @10:51AM (#19291959)
          Um... 25 was not mid life...

          The average age expectancy has gone up because child mortality rates dropped, not because people are living longer. People who survived childhood have been living into their 80's at a minimum for centuries and there's little evidence that it changed much even before then.

          Now the real question is, did you really not know that, or did you know it and were playing on the fact that many people don't to push your position in your reply?
      • Re:Frogurt (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Snaller ( 147050 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @08:43AM (#19291287) Journal
        "The fact is, we're living longer and healthier with all of this "processed crap" than we ever did with "good old food". "

        Actually no, that's not a fact - remember there is "life lag", the numbers we look at are always 60-70 years behind. The people who die now eat their stuff a long time ago. And many scientists are thinking the curve will drop drastically in the future because of the crap people eat now - the obesity-related diseases in the west have exploded with a ton of related ilnesses.

        "This is what gets me about GMO opponents - they fail to understand that there is a significant proportion of the world that would kill for ANY semblence of nutrition."

        And why is that? Because the rich west don't give a shit about them. When you get right down to it, most people don't care about the next guy - let him die. Which is also why its dangerous chemically added stuff, who cares if you bump off some people - as long as there are enough left to buy it!
  • by Stickerboy ( 61554 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:59AM (#19289999) Homepage
    News at 11.

    This should be trivially easy to prove/disprove by an epidemiologic study. There are plenty of people who drink soda with the benzoates in them; there are plenty of people (myself included) who drink a rather large amount of soda with potassium/sodium benzoate added.

    Obviously, if the benzoates are really bad for you, there should be more things wrong with us, and the effect should be dose-dependent on how much benzoate you take in.

    Honestly, the smell test (do I detect a whiff of paranoid, protect-the-children bullshit?) makes me think this is the Alar Scare [wikipedia.org] of 2007.
    • Basically the article says:

      While the lab tests that prompted the scare required an amount of Alar equal to over 5000 gallons (20,000 L) of apple juice per day, Consumers Union ran its own studies and estimated the human lifetime cancer risk to be between 5 - 50 per million (1 case per million is the threshold at which the government considers a carcinogen a significant public health concern).

      and then:

      Whelan's campaign was so effective that today, Alar scare is shorthand among news media and food industry p

  • by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:03AM (#19290029) Journal
    Beer is still safe.
  • by cruachan ( 113813 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:07AM (#19290043)
    Not to say that there might not be an issue, but The Independent was the Newspaper that first ran the WiFi scare in the UK - a couple of weeks ago and well before the BBC - and last Sunday's scare in the paper was over baby alarms. Both pieces were examples of really bad science journalism with widespread scattering of the term 'radiation' throughout and cleverly writen to wrap as much scaremongering as possible up in pseudo-objective and precautionary language.

    Today's leader article is a classic 'For The Sake Of The Children' rant (http://comment.independent.co.uk/leading_articles /article2586569.ece)
  • You get more benzene exposure from car exhaust while driving then you'll ever get from soda. It's everywhere. You get doses of it just breathing every day.

    Why do people instantly buy into scaremongering stories like this? Look how there's already several posts crying "Why not the FDA doooooo something!"

    Do what? Just don't drink soda if your panties got soiled by this story. Oh, and don't pump gas, either.
  • Hello, E-trade? Yeah... how invested am I am in the stock "PBG" and how much have I lost? Oh, I just read that the sky is falling is all.
  • by Greg_D ( 138979 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:46AM (#19290213)
    ... to Coca Cola. That was after growing up for 21 years in which cola was a treat that almost never found its way into my family's household.

    Sugar? Check.
    Caffeine? Check.
    Citrus flavor? Check.

    But the main thing that I loved above all else was the bite from the fizz. After I realized this, I made a quick switch to seltzer water with a lemon or lime wedge and sometimes some crushed mint. I get the same bite, but without all that extra stuff.

    Dropped 30lbs in 3 months after that switch.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by B5_geek ( 638928 )
      I was in addicted to the stuff too, I was drinking upto 6L per day. I stopped drinking it (when I went on the Atkins diet) and lost 40 pounds in my first month.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I actually did the same thing. I switched to seltzer and i lost 50+lbs. I drink mostly water now, not seltzer, but yeah definatly it makes a huge difference when you just drop the sugar and other silly shit.
  • No kidding. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zCyl ( 14362 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:58AM (#19290271)
    Not to mention sodium benzoate causes headaches in a good percentage of humans, and over the long term has been found to trigger obesity and diabetes in lab rats. (It might do this in humans too over the long term, but it's hard to get humans to sign up for such studies.)

    It would be funny if it weren't so sad that people drink diet sodas that are loaded with this, and they think they are doing their body a favor.
  • evil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nanosquid ( 1074949 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @05:24AM (#19290389)
    Drinks manufacturers point out that sodium benzoate has been approved for use by regulators

    Regulatory approval should not permit manufacturers to escape their responsibility: "it was approved" should never be a way of escaping liability over dangerous substances. Regulatory approval can, at best, be an extra safety check, not something manufacturers can rely on.
  • Pffft (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mystery00 ( 1100379 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @06:04AM (#19290551)
    Pffffft, been drinking this stuff for years, completely harmless, I'm just fi- *urk*
  • Coca-Cola Zero (Score:5, Informative)

    by dysfunct ( 940221 ) * on Sunday May 27, 2007 @06:37AM (#19290719)
    If anybody's interested: There's currently quite a number of marketing campaigns across of Europe for the new Coca-Cola Zero. According to its Wikipedia's entry [wikipedia.org], the product can contain sodium benzoate depending on the country where it's sold. If you're cautious and want to be on the safe side, you might want to stick to regular Coca Cola or Diet Coke which appear not to contain this stuff.
  • by nanosquid ( 1074949 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @08:24AM (#19291189)
    The toxic chemical in soda is well known, and it kills millions: it's called sugar.
  • Dose-Response (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Step Child ( 216708 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @10:27AM (#19291843) Homepage
    Before we indulge in conspiracy theories (though it appears that it's too late), I think that eyebrows should be raised, but we shouldn't be screaming that the sky is falling. I think this famous quote can't be repeated enough with respect to these kinds of articles: "All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous." (Paracelsus)

    The study mentioned in the article was done on yeast cells. We need to do a controlled animal study in which different doses of this chemical are administered. By doing these kinds of studies, we can begin to understand the risk that this chemical poses to us given the most common range of exposure levels. Who knows - maybe we'll begin to see warning labels, or the industry may just switch to another, less hazardous preservative. Until then, calm down, and remember that every ingredient in your food and drinks can be considered toxic in sufficient quantities!
  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:01PM (#19293725)
    boiling some sliced ginger root, adding sugar cane juice, and then compressed gas.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray