Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Sodium Benzoate Bad For You?

Also Known As: E number E211, the sodium salt of benzoic acid



Short answer

All evidence points to sodium benzoate as being harmful to human health. Major studies are lacking and erring on the safe side of avoidance is best.



Long answer

Sodium Benzoate is formed from benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide. It is commonly used as a preservative in various foods and beverages, often in order to prevent spoilage of high fructose corn syrup. While there is some evidence that sodium benzoate may cause hyperactivity in children, the largest concern is its reaction with vitamin C. In some cases, sodium benzoate and vitamin C, when exposed to heat or light, can react to form benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen, causing cancer in humans when exposed to high amounts in the air at various work sites. Though the FDA states that benzene does not exceed 1.5 parts per billion (the official limit is 5 ppb), that does not mean there is no room for concern regarding sodium benzoate. 

Strangely enough, sodium benzoate is non-toxic when naturally occurring - however, the synthetic version has been shown to be highly toxic. It has been linked to DNA damage, resulting in, among other things, Parkinson's disease and assorted liver problems. Sodium benzoate is not only used as a preservative coated in an edible substance (which raises the red flag that maybe sodium benzoate isn't meant to be ingested), but it is also widely used as an anticorrosive. 

It is worthy of note that the FDA conducted a limited test of 200 beverages in 2006-2007 and found four of them to have excessive levels of benzene (the drinks were immediately brought to standard). However, 200 is a limited amount and independent research (i.e. not funded or tied to the beverage industry) is lacking. Also missing is long-term data regarding the accumulation of sodium benzoate in the body. 

With much lacking in terms of research and the studies that have been done pointing to toxicity (with the added danger of benzene formation), sodium benzoate should be avoided when possible - difficult as it may be.

Possible short-term side effects

  • hyperactivity (especially in children)

Possible long-term side effects

  • cancer
  • dna damage
  • parkinson's disease

Commonly found in

  • sodas
  • salad dressing
  • jams
  • fruit juices
  • pickled products
  • shampoo


  • better preserves food

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Jeff Volling
Published on: 02-12-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Jeff Volling
Published on: 02-12-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

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