Sodium benzoate is a food preservative, and its other common function is as a prescription medication. It may be a safe ingredient in food for most individuals, or you may benefit from using it as a treatment for urea cycle disorder. However, you should be aware of the potential dangers of sodium benzoate so that you can watch for them.
As a food additive, sodium benzoate is classified as a generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, substance. The Food and Drug Administration approves its use in foods, but has placed a limit on the concentration of sodium benzoate allowed in a particular food. As a medication, sodium benzoate can lower levels of ammonia in your blood if you have urea cycle disorder. Only use the medication with a prescription, and watch for potential side effects such as chest pain or confusion.
Sodium benzoate may trigger or exacerbate symptoms or episodes of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition is most common in children but it can be present in adults as well, and affected individuals may be forgetful, have difficulty concentrating and following directions or display impulsiveness. It is difficult to determine the precise relationship between sodium benzoate and ADHD because additional food additives in the same foods as sodium benzoate may have similar effects. A common recommendation for ADHD is to emphasize fresh, unprocessed foods.
Asthma causes narrowing and swelling of your airways so that breathing is difficult, and food additives, such as sodium benzoate, may lead to asthma attacks, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have asthma, limit your intake of saturated fat, dairy products and processed foods with sulfites, artificial sweeteners or food colorings. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids from fish or flaxseed, and your doctor may suggest breathing exercises to help prevent asthma attacks.
Sodium benzoate is a preservative, and manufacturers add it to foods during processing. A risk of a high-sodium diet is high blood pressure, or hypertension, which increases your risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. You can lower your intake of sodium benzoate and total sodium by reducing consumption of processed and prepared foods, and reading nutrition labels to choose low-sodium products.
- Mayo Clinic; ADHD Diet: Do Food Additives Cause Hyperactivity?; John Huxsahl; October 2009
- Mayo Clinic; Asthma Treatment: Do Complementary and Alternative Approaches Work?; October 2009
- Food and Drug Adminstration; List of Food Additive Status Part I; June 2011
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010; January 2010
- University of Maryland; Sodium Benzoate/Sodium Phenylacetate (Injection); January 2010