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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Health Risks Associated with Soft Drink and Vitamin-C Consumption

Written by: Muoka Chibuzor

Soft drinks of the century…

A Soft drink is a drink that typically contains carbonated water, a sweetener, a natural or artificial flavouring, colourings, preservatives and other ingredients. They are “SOFT” drinks because they are non – alcoholic beverages.

Since the inception of soft drink production, several changes and modifications have been employed to ensure that it’s enticing and unharming to the consumers.
In Nigeria, some of the readily available soft drinks include- Coke, Fanta, Sprite, La – Casera, Viju Milk, Nutri – Milk etc.

Research has been conducted, which helped in stating the appropriate quantity of various components of a typical soft drink so as to make it non-toxic to consumers. These preparation rules are stated by Government agencies such as Food and Drug Agency (FDA) in the USA and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Nigeria.

These rules are strictly adhered to by beverage companies to avoid losing their license to produce such soft drinks. Unfortunately, it has been discovered that there has been a quite unwanted reaction between Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) and the preservatives used in carbonated soft drinks.
The possibilities of this reaction have been supported by various scientific research results.

Benzoate salts in Soft drinks.

It’s worthy to note that carbonated Soft drinks are acidic in nature and the most appropriate preservative used includes; Salts of benzoic acid which are sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate. Both are identified with the E number; E211 and E212 respectively.

Sodium benzoate - Powdered form
Image credit - Wikipedia
A closer look at the ingredients of any soft drink which is normally indicated on the container will tell you the preservative used in the drink. These preservatives prevent the growth of moulds, yeasts and bacteria in the soft drink.

Sodium Benzoate products
Sodium benzoate is very active especially in acidic Medias such as carbonated drinks. It’s mostly preferred because of its high solubility in aqueous Medias.

When Preservatives become Poison Precursors…

Ascorbic acid (Vitamin – C) is a natural component of many foods and is often added to food and beverages as a vitamin supplement or fortifier and promoted as an antioxidant.

A research work titled “Benzene Production from Decarboxylation of Benzoic Acid In The Presence Of Ascorbic Acid and a Transition – Metal Catalyst”, published in the year 1993 by the American Chemical Society has shown that Ascorbic Acid can engage in Reactions that will convert the preservative Sodium Benzoate to form a toxic substance known as “Benzene” through a process known as Decarboxylation in the presence of metal catalysts (Iron & Copper) that can facilitate the reaction.

Other factors that propagate the formation of benzene in soft drinks are Heat and Light. Storing soft drinks in warm conditions can speed up the formation of benzene.

A Belgian study also found that plastic packaging may play an important role in the formation of benzene in soft drinks. Also, Sodium benzoate has been investigated by researchers at the University of Sheffield as a possible cause of DNA damage and Hyperactivity.

How dangerous is Benzene?

Benzene is a colourless, flammable liquid with a sweet odour. Classed as a hydrocarbon and is a constituent of crude oil. It’s a potentially dangerous chemical which has been proven scientifically to cause cancer and other illnesses.  It is also a notorious cause of bone marrow failure (Leukemia).

One of the ways people are exposed to benzene is when they consume products that have them present or that lead to their formation. It’s improper for one to be taking Vitamin – C and at the same time consuming soft drinks with benzoate preservatives. 

Based on scientific research, people who use soft drinks to take oral drugs, instead of water should retrace their steps as unwanted drug interactions can occur at the biochemical and molecular level and expose one to unwarranted side effects.

Withdrawals from benzoate derivatives use as preservatives.

1) In 1993, research showed how benzene can form from benzoic acid in the presence of Vitamin – C.

2) In 1998, a number of well-known soft drinks manufacturers had to withdraw large quantities of their products from sale after benzene contamination in some production plants was discovered.

3) In December 2005, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment Published a review of benzene’s possible formation in foods and drinks.

4) In February 2006, an unnamed former chemist at the FDA publicly revealed that benzene may be created as part of a chemical reaction during the production of soft drinks, particularly those having an orange flavour.

In April 2006, the Korean Food & Drug Administration (KFDA) announced that it had detected benzene in 27 out of 30 (90%) vitamin – enriched drinks on sale in South Korea.

5) In 2008, Coca – Cola announced that it would be phasing out sodium benzoate from any of its drinks, but not Fanta and Sprite.

Recently in Nigeria…

6) In 2017, the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) was forced to appeal to a court order which directs the company to inscribe a warning on the bottles of its Fanta and Sprite which says “Its content cannot be taken with Vitamin – C”.

Possible Solutions…

A) Food and beverage companies should reduce the quantity of preservative used in production to the barest minimum. If possible better preservative alternatives should be employed to help eradicate issues such as benzene formation in soft drinks.

B) Consumers must strive to know the content of whatever they are consuming. This will go a long way in helping them discern what should be taken together and what should not be taken together. 
Questions like, can I take this drug with this drink? Can thus be answered. In cases whereby they consume drinks preserved with benzoate salts, they should stay away from vitamin – C.

C) These soft drinks should be kept and stored in cool environments as exposure to the sun’s excessive radiations and heat can catalyse reactions that will make it more detrimental than refreshing to human health.

D) The Food and Drug agencies should ensure that everyone is enlightened on Health issues that can arise from what we take, the same way they told us that “Smokers are Liable to die young”. 

They should monitor the Food and Drink companies to ensure that they prepare their products within the stated rules and codes of conduct. This is to ensure that they do not poison people as they struggle to make ends meet.

E) Excessive consumption of soft drinks should be discouraged. Apart from the issue of benzene formation and exposure, other health issues such as Obesity, Diabetes, Heart diseases, Dental caries, Low Nutrient levels, Kidney stones can also arise from excessive soft drink consumption.


1. Benzene and Cancer risks. Last modified 2016 – 5 – 7. Retrieved 2017 – 3 – 24.

2. Benzene in Soft drinks. Last modified 2017 – 2 – 27. Retrieved 2017 – 3 – 24. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzene_in_soft_drinks

3. Health warning against taking vitamin-c and Fanta or Sprite. Retrieved 2017 – 3 – 23.

4. Lalita K. Gardner, and Glen D. Lawrence. “Benzene Production from Decarboxylation of Benzoic Acid In The Presence Of Ascorbic Acid and a Transition – Metal Catalyst.” J. Agric. Food Chem (1993): 41(5). Pp. 693 – 695. doi: 10.1021/jf00029a001.

5. Sodium Benzoate. Last modified 2017 – 1 – 22. Retrieved 2017 – 3 – 24.

6. Soft Drink. Last modified 2017 – 3 – 17. Retrieved 2017 – 3 – 24. 

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