Sodium Benzoate—Harmfulness and Potential Use in Therapies for Disorders Related to the Nervous System: A Review

Introduction

With the increasing chemicalization of food in recent years, consumers have become more concerned about the safety and health aspects of their food choices. This has led to a growing interest in minimally processed products that do not contain additives, including preservatives. The concept of a “clean label” has gained popularity, where consumers actively seek out food products that are free from harmful chemicals.

Sodium benzoate, also known as E211, is a salt of benzoic acid that is commonly used as a food preservative. It is soluble in water, tasteless, and odorless. Its antimicrobial properties make it effective in inhibiting the growth of bacteria, yeast, and mold in food products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sodium benzoate as the first food preservative. It is regulated by a permissible limit of consumption, which is set at 0-5 mg/kg of body weight. It also has a Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status according to the FDA. This means that sodium benzoate is considered safe for human consumption when consumed in amounts below the established limit.

Safety and Regulation of Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate does not accumulate in the body. When ingested, it is metabolized in the liver and kidney into hippurate, which is then excreted through the urinary system. The administration of sodium benzoate causes an increase in anthranilic acid and acetylglycine in the body. It is important to note that sodium benzoate is one of the metabolites of cinnamon.

The primary use of sodium benzoate is as a preservative in food products with an acidic pH. It is commonly added to fruit pulp and purees, jams, pickles, pickled herring and mackerel, margarine, olives, beer, fruit yogurts, canned vegetables, and salads. It is also found in carbonated drinks, sauces, mayonnaises, margarines, tomato paste, and fruit preserves. In its natural form, sodium benzoate is present in cinnamon, mushrooms, cranberries, blueberries, and cloves.

In addition to its use as a food preservative, sodium benzoate has also been approved for therapeutic use in the form of two drugs: Ammonul/Ucephan and Buphenyl. These drugs are used to treat urea cycle disorders and hyperammonemia.

Potential Therapeutic Uses of Sodium Benzoate

Recent studies have suggested that sodium benzoate may have potential therapeutic uses in the treatment of certain nervous system disorders. It has been investigated for its effects on major depressive disorder (MDD), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and neurodegenerative diseases.

One study found that sodium benzoate, when used as an adjunct to antidepressant medication, resulted in a significant reduction in depressive symptoms in patients with MDD. Another study showed that sodium benzoate had a positive effect on cognitive symptoms in patients with schizophrenia. In the case of ASD, sodium benzoate was found to improve social behavior and communication skills in children with the disorder.

In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, sodium benzoate has shown promise in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which are known to contribute to the progression of these diseases.

Controversial Findings and Adverse Effects

While sodium benzoate is generally considered safe for consumption, there have been reports of adverse health effects associated with its use. These include allergic reactions and exacerbation of symptoms in individuals with aspirin-induced asthma, particularly those with hypersensitivity to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Scientific research on the effects of sodium benzoate has yielded conflicting and often contradictory results. Some studies suggest that it may have unfavorable effects on the body, while others indicate potential benefits, particularly in the treatment of certain diseases. The mechanisms of action through which sodium benzoate exerts its effects are complex and not fully understood, which contributes to the conflicting findings.

It is important to note that the safety and potential therapeutic uses of sodium benzoate are still being studied, and more research is needed to fully understand its effects on the body.

Conclusion

Sodium benzoate is a widely used food preservative that has been approved as safe for consumption by regulatory authorities. It is commonly added to a range of food products to inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and mold. In addition to its role as a preservative, sodium benzoate has been found to have potential therapeutic uses in the treatment of certain nervous system disorders.

While sodium benzoate is generally regarded as safe, there have been reports of adverse health effects associated with its use. The conflicting findings from scientific research highlight the need for further study to better understand the effects of sodium benzoate on the body.

Consumers should be aware of the presence of sodium benzoate in their food and make informed choices based on their individual health needs and sensitivities. As with any food additive, moderation and balance are key factors in maintaining a healthy diet.