Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Soft Drinks Linked to Aging ?


Today a lot of stories have appeared in the media implicating soft drinks (Fanta, Coca-Cola, Britvic's Pepsi Max, Diet Pepsi, Sprite, Oasis, and Dr Pepper) in "Parkinson's and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing.":

Could Soft Drinks Make Your Mitochondria Fizzle?
Wired News - Its safety has been tested, though not rigorously, and a British scientist with the unfortunate name of Peter Piper has shown that sodium benzoate shuts down the mitochondria of yeast cells.
Expert's drink additive fears Sheffield Today

Fresh health fears hit benzoate in soft drinks NutraIngredients-usa.com
Research: Sodas May Pose Serious Health Risks AHN
all 46 news articles »

Well, a small investigation reveals that the "news" media fuss is related to this study published 8 years ago:

Piper PW, "Yeast superoxide dismutase mutants reveal a pro-oxidant action of weak organic acid food preservatives," Free Radic Biol Med. 1999 Dec; 27(11-12):1219-27

This paper acknowledges that:

"Benzoic acid is generally assumed to be safe because it is conjugated in the liver to produce benzoylglycine (hippuric acid), a compound that is then excreted in the urine. Sorbate is also largely excreted, in this case mostly as the oxidation product 2,4-hexadienedioxic acid. However, before these acids are transported to the liver, they will come into contact with the epithelia of the gastrointestinal tract."

Therefore the possible risk is limited to the epithelia of the gastrointestinal tract only, which is reflected in the last sentence of the article abstract:

"This raises the concern that the large-scale consumption of these preservatives in the human diet may generate oxidative stress within the epithelia of the gastrointestinal tract."

Obviously a potential damage limited to the epithelia of the gastrointestinal tract only can not be possibly responsible for "Parkinson's and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing."

On the other hand, we may agree with the following, more balanced statement of this article:

"...the potential for weak organic acid food preservatives to act as pro-oxidants in humans should probably be reexamined, if only to reassure the public of the complete safety of these compounds."

For easy reading about food preservatives sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, and other food additives, see:

Nutrition For Dummies
by Carol Ann Rinzler (Paperback - Jun 19, 2006)

For more professional coverage of this topic, please see:

Food Preservatives
by Nicholas J. Russell and Grahame W. Gould (Hardcover - Oct 19, 2005)

See also:

New Books about Soft Drinks

Key words:

Soft drinks, Aging, Sodium benzoate, Peter Piper,Benzoic acid, Parkinson's disease, Neuro-degenerative diseases, epithelia of the gastrointestinal tract, Fanta, Coca-Cola, Britvic's Pepsi Max, Diet Pepsi, Sprite, Oasis, Dr Pepper

To read comments on this story, and to post your own thoughts, click here

Longevity Science Blog
Longevity Science: Soft Drinks Linked to Aging ?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a voice of reason amongst what will only grow into hysterics before fizzling out.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Dianne Murray said...

I've linked back to your blog from mine, in the blogs and links section on the side bar.


It's good more scientists are blogging.

Scientists and journalists, in general, do not appear to understand each other very well. If either had spent time in either a lab, or the field, or in a newsroom they would begin to see it's not anywhere near as tidy or simple a job in either case.

In a newsroom or when digging for background to a story (and it won't be the only story you are working on, chances are - it may be something you've been handed by the assignment editor) you're under deadline pressures that never occur fopr scientists - we are talking part of a day, at best, and you are lucky several days or even a week.

And then it's off to the next story.

There isn't the time - and still you must fact check within to tight deadlines.

Which when you are covering the entire field of all sciences, is effectively impossible to get perfect. Time is real luxury in the media.

But I also find the journalists, generally don't get the process of science, either, the setting up of experiments, the painstakingness of experimentation, that it takes time, the one thing journalists almost never have much of.

I say this as someone who started in science and migrated to science journalism. Many science journalists don't have a science background, although some thankfully, do.

No journalist I know is especially hysterical by nature. It's just a matter of finding research findings that are important to the public and that you can present in a way that will engage (in my case) listeners). Sometimes the stuff is quite complex for an average listener who has almost no background in science at all. That's the stuff most journalist don't have the time to present, assuming you have one with some science chops.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Dianne Murray said...

My apologies for the typos. :)

3:11 PM  
Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your kind and interesting comments! I agree with you that it would be very helpful to increase mutual understanding between scientists and journalists.

This could be achieved by organizing joint workshops and retreats, if some sponsor finds this interesting. As for the possible topics of such gatherings, please see:

5:22 PM  
Anonymous SciencePunk said...

Thanks for the comment on my site and strong article of your own. Though I have to disagree with Dianne - I managed to debunk this story in an hour or two whilst goofing off from my office job (which is unrelated to anything scientific).

Yes, journalists are under strong time pressures but it's clear most the papers that printed this story simply recycled the press release without even pausing for thought. Or maybe they simply wanted a sensationalist story, which sadly is the more likely scenario.

I agree that a better understanding between the two is required, especially to prevent cases where the media has been intentionally mislead by an errant scientist, like this one.

2:38 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS for your comments on this subject. I too have a healthy skepticism about this sodium benzoate "scare." It's yet another excuse for the so-called health experts to ratchet up the scaremongering yet again.

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Mari said...

At first I thought your comment was spam, but the nofollow convinced me otherwise.

And of course, a scare on sodium benzoate is just another crazy hype to occupy about five minutes of gossip time between uneducated people.

Though, perhaps, scaring soft drink consumers about it may help their overall health by steering them away from the high fructose corn syrup?

It's nice to see a reasonable person explain the shortcomings of the article.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Latest developments:

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) reviewed professor Piper's original 1999 study but found its relevance to humans was “unclear”:

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie Whited said...

Even if the most recent evidence is not convincing, there are a lot of other reasons not to drink sodas. They usually contain phosphoric acid which is close to the acidity of battery acid and "dissolves away your skeletal system." http://toremember.wordpress.com
There are also a lot of reasons not to consume anything with additives or preservatives. The long term effects of most are unknown, and many that have been researched have been found to have a negative impact on the body.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Rebekah said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog
http://naturallyfrugal.blogspot.com !

I agree with the others that the avoidance of soda for any reason, whether its because of the unproven side effects of preservatives or known effects of things like caffeine or phosphoric acid, is not a negative thing. There are much more beneficial beverages out there not to mention way less expensive!

As for journalistic scare tactics or sensationalism, I'm reminded of the phrase "Don't believe everything you read"..

6:56 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

I'm a journalist without any official scientific background other then a healthy interest.

It's not uncommon to have a number of "soft news" stories like this in reserve for the slower days. In a world where engaging new content is expected on a regular basis news organizations need to be able to put something up quickly when there isn't really anything happening.

That is not, of course, any defense for shoddy journalism but it is an explanation as to why things like this happen.

The sensationalism in the article comes, again, from the expectations of the audience and the questionable state of modern media. Responsible journalists of course want to present stories as clearly and accurately as possible but as you work your way further up the food chain those virtues become less and less important. Sadly the inevitable outcome is simple: sensationalism sells.

And oftentimes journalists do understand the methodical nature of the scientific method. When you're working on a story properly you need to be methodical, dispassionate and beholden to the facts. That is especially true when you're working on a longform piece.


7:46 PM  
Blogger Vinit Kumar Singh said...

Really nice article sir on the bad effects of Soft drinks, and also thanks for ur comment on my blog.

Keep up the good work,

My best wishes.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Vinit Kumar Singh said...

Thanks for ur comment on my blog. As u said really this article on Soft drinks is very appreciable, nice to know one more bad effect of Soft drinks on health :).

Keep up the good work sir.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your kind comments, but please note that my post supports the opposite view -- namely, that the recent fears of sodium benzoate in soft drinks are unsubstantiated. Sodium benzoate is reasonably safe, see:


11:26 AM  
Blogger Trickish Knave said...

Although my blog entry was a tongue-in-cheek response to the benzoate 'scare', I do appreciate your thoughtful entry with the link to your article. It seems you are passionate about this topic as you have done the same to many other blogs.

I am dubious of scientific claims after we were told that eating eggs was bad for us, then, good for us but only in moderation. Seems to me anything taken in 'moderation' isn't that bad- crack, ecstasy, and heroin excluded.

6:45 PM  
Blogger SiewYin Gark said...

Appreciate your positive feedback on Great Health And Us Blog.

It's good that more people are talking about this. As when more and more people are talking about the same issue, people will somehow start to believe!


2:05 AM  
Blogger EUES Ireland said...

Thank you for your comment left on http://euesireland.blogspot.com

You will see that my blog is concerned mainly with the disgraceful practice of putting chemical waste, in this case hydrofluorosilicic acid (AKA fluoride), into drinking water.
I welcome all discussion of what people blindly consume through the drinks or food prepared and offered to them by industry. In too many cases they are not informed by the supplier of the true nature of the chemicals and ingredients that make up their intake. The more scientists that take part in informing people through blogs or otherwise, the better. My own feeling is that the consequences of the sheer volume of chemicals being imbibed by the world's population can only manifest themselves down the line. I do not for one moment believe that as a species we can continue to pollute our environment and bodies without some consequences occurring.
EUES Ireland

4:50 PM  
Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Latest developments:

Carl Winter, the director of the FoodSafe Program at UC Davis, said:
"It's too early to jump to conclusions. At the present time, should this be a cause for concern? No."

7:43 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

You didn't address the problem of Benzene being produced by the combination of Benzoate and Asorbic Acid. Benzene is not a harmless substance for many people especially with comprimised health systems. I do respect your opinion but wonder if you were too quick to debunk the whole point of the research? I guess I should ask point blank, does the combination of Benzoate and Asobic Acid create Benzene?

1:59 AM  
Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

I believe that it is important to stay on topic, and not to change the subject of the discussion.
What we are discussing here is the credibility of a claim that human mitochondrial DNA could be damaged by benzoate consumed through soft drinks, thus contributing to human aging. Let us try to get the answer to this question first. Then the other potential problems with soft drinks could be also discussed, perhaps, in a separate place.

Yes, decarboxylation of benzoic acid can produce benzene, and, what is far more important, its traces were found in some soft drinks. Thus this health risk may be more credible, when compared to what we are discussing here :)

10:37 AM  
Blogger dr john said...

thankyou for directing me to your interesting blog and website - i take the point about this story being sensationalized.
i am also concerned about aspartame in some drinks. and am interested in the findings of the dentist Weston-Price (google this)in the 1930s that people living on simple, natural, unprocessed foods were free from dental caries, and also free from diabetes, heart disease, etc.

6:51 AM  
Anonymous Longevity Science said...

I am well aware of this book, but for benefit of other readers, here is the weblink to this book, and to the place for its discussion:

shorter link:

Hope this helps. Thanks again!

10:54 AM  
Blogger nellie o apple said...

Hello Dr.Gavrilov...thank you for reading my blog.
I am addicted to cola since when I was a kid. Now I am paying for it! I have ulcers. I switch to green tea and it helps my stomach from cramping.
But sometimes I have my vanilla coke one a day and I drink a lot of water. Would you believe I could drink 5 or 6 bottles of H20?
Have a great day!

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