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What is Sodium Benzoate and What Are Its Uses?

4 mins read. Published on 13 Jul 22, Updated on 23 Oct 22.
What is Sodium Benzoate and What Are Its Uses?
Table of contents

Have you ever asked yourself, "what is sodium benzoate?" If you're reading this, you probably have. 

It's only a compound that can extend the shelf life of some foods by up to two years! It would have come in handy when everyone was stocking bomb shelters with pickled and preserves during the red scare! 

Additionally, it has been found to alleviate symptoms of illnesses such as schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. Citing facts like that, sodium benzoate is starting to sound like some kind of miracle! 

But there is so much more to sodium benzoate, to find out, keep reading. 


What is Sodium Benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is the salt of benzoic acid used as a food preservative and pickling agent. It's also used in cosmetics. 

Sodium benzoate is created by mixing benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide together. It has the appearance of a white crystalline powder. Benzoic acid also occurs naturally in some fruits and spices, such as apples, berries, cinnamon, plums, and some other natural foods.  

Often added to perishable items as a preservative, it is usually listed on product packaging as an ingredient called E211.  

What is Sodium Benzoate Used For  

Sodium benzoate has various uses, such as a preservative that helps keep food safe from bacteria and fungi. It inhibits their growth and reproduction, preventing them from spreading. Preserving food with sodium benzoate helps protect it from spoilage. 

Sodium benzoate helps to preserve food by making it more acidic. The acidic environment created by this product inhibits fungal growth, thereby protecting food items like salad dressings made with vinegar from becoming contaminated with harmful bacteria.  

You can also find sodium benzoate in acidic foods like pickles, sauces, jams, and fruit juices, to enhance their flavor. 

Sodium benzoate is also a common preservative in many liquid medicines, such as cough syrup.  

Benefits of Sodium Benzoate  

Besides being a preservative and flavour enhancer, sodium benzoate has other benefits, such as being a corrosion inhibitor. It stops rust and can be added to engine coolant to reduce corrosion in engines and machinery. It is also used as a stabilizer in photo processing and can improve the strength of certain plastics.  

It has a host of medicinal benefits, too.  

Sodium benzoate can reduce high levels of ammonia in the blood, often as a result of liver disease or urea cycle disorders where the body's ability to excrete ammonia in urine is decreased.

Scientists have found that sodium benzoate may have therapeutic effects by binding unwanted toxins or affecting the activity of certain enzymes in the body. 

In a six-week study of people with schizophrenia, 1,000 mg of sodium benzoate administered daily and their regular drug therapy reduced schizophrenic symptoms by 21% compared to a placebo.

Further in vivo and in vitro studies showed that sodium benzoate could help slow the progress of multiple sclerosis (MS). This may be because of the stimulation of the production of myelin, the protective nerve sheath that gets damaged in MS.

In a 6-week case study, men with major depression who received 500 mg of sodium benzoate daily saw their symptoms reduced by 64%, and MRI scans showed improvements in parts of the brain associated with depression.   

Maple Syrup Urine Disease, which inhibits the breakdown of specific amino acids and makes urine smell like syrup, can be treated by intravenously administered sodium benzoate to help in a crisis phase of the disease.  

A study on Panic disorder — characterized by anxiety, abdominal pain, chest tightness, and palpitations — references a person who took 500 mg of sodium benzoate per day and saw their panic symptoms reduced by 61% in only six weeks.   

Is Sodium Benzoate Safe?  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studied sodium benzoate at length and reported that it is safe when ingested in amounts found in regular diets.  

The FDA went on to say that it would take about 180 times the amount of sodium benzoate present in a regular person's diet before they would experience any adverse health effects.

Even if every single bit of the foods you eat had the highest possible amount of sodium benzoate currently used, it would still take almost 90 times the amount of sodium benzoate found in that diet to cause any significant issues.  

Some people are hesitant to put any human-made additives in their food, but sodium benzoate is also listed as a "Generally Regarded as Safe" (GRAS) substance by the FDA. The safe level of sodium benzoate in food is incredibly low, at just 0.1 percent. This means that it is unlikely to cause any health problems.  

Despite being a common additive in many sodas, sodium benzoate may pose a health concern when combined with ascorbic acid, also found in many foods, as it creates benzene.  

According to the FDA, benzene is known to increase cancer risk. The allowable amount of benzene in a beverage is set at five parts per billion. When benzene is formed, this could have adverse effects on your health.  

When used alone as a preservative, sodium benzoate rarely has any side effects, even when consumed in large doses of up to 50 grams. If you experience nausea or vomiting, be aware that sodium benzoate can also cause irritation to stomach ulcers and, in rare cases, may lead to dizziness and lightheadedness.  

In rare cases, taking sodium benzoate and sodium phenylacetate - a drug for treating urea cycle disorders - together may cause more serious side effects such as bruising, blood in one's excrement, vomiting, shortness of breath, altered breathing patterns, drowsiness, and unconsciousness.

Some rare side effects of taking this medication include muscle cramps, tremors, a rash, restlessness, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.  

To reiterate, these side effects are extremely rare; always speak to your doctor if you are unsure of allergies or drug interactions. 

Big Bad Benzoate  

Sodium benzoate has taken a bad rap over the past few years, but in all honesty, it's a naturally occurring food additive that makes our lives just that much tangier!  

Now that you know the answer to the question, "what is sodium benzoate?" you can safely enjoy another spoonful of organic sauerkraut from our unique online store.

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