Brominated Vegetable Oil

Brominated [broh-muh-neyt-edvegetable oil (BVO) is vegetable oil that has had atoms of the element bromine bonded to it. Oil treated this way is used as an emulsifier in citrus-flavored soft drinks to help natural fat-soluble citrus flavors stay suspended in the drink and to produce a cloudy appearance. BVO has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931.

The addition of bromine increases the density of the oil, and the amount of bromine is carefully controlled to achieve a density that is the same as the water in the drink. As a result, the BVO remains suspended in the water instead of forming separate layers. Only small quantities, concentrations of 8 ppm, are needed to achieve this effect.

In the United States, BVO was designated in 1958 as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), but this was withdrawn by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1970. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations currently imposes restrictions on the use of BVO as a food additive in the United States, limiting the concentration to 15 ppm, limiting the amount of free fatty acids to 2.5 percent, and limiting the iodine value to 16. BVO is one of four substances that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has defined as interim food additives (a special transitional category for food-use substances whose safety has been called into question).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers BVO to be safe for use as a food additive, but there are case reports of excessive consumption that has been associated with adverse health effects. In one case, a man who drank eight liters of Ruby-Red Squirt daily had a reaction that caused his skin color to turn red and produced lesions diagnosed as bromoderma. The excessive quantities together with the fact that the man had a higher than normal sensitivity to bromine made this an unusual case.

A similar case reported that a man who consumed two to four liters of a cola containing BVO on a daily basis experienced memory loss, tremors, fatigue, loss of muscle coordination, headache, and ptosis of the right eyelid, as well as elevated serum chloride. In the two months it took to correctly diagnose the problem, the patient also lost the ability to walk. Eventually, bromism was diagnosed and hemodialysis was prescribed which resulted in a reversal of the disorder.

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