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Food or Poison- Azodicarbonamide

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Food or Poison- Azodicarbonamide

Azodicarbonamide (E927a)

Azodicarbonamide, also known as ADA or “yoga mat”, is an industrial chemical widely used in the plastics industry, as a chemical foaming agent. It is mixed into polymer plastic gel to generate tiny gas bubbles in foams and plastics like vinyl. It allows for the development of materials that are strong, light, spongy, and malleable. Hence the name “yoga mat” because ADA is often found in foamed plastics, like those found on yoga mats.

But ADA is also used in the food industry! Yes, from yoga mats to your sandwiches!

ADA is a whitening agent used to bleach and leaven dough as a food additive. It can be found in breads, bagels, pizza, and pastries in the United States. On the FDA website, you can read “Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a chemical substance approved for use as a whitening agent in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner in bread baking1.”

Health Effects of ADA

ADA can cause acute and chronic health problems due to its potential for pulmonary and cutaneous (skin) sensitization. ADA is considered a respiratory sensitizer linked to respiratory issues and asthma in exposed workers (occupational asthma)2,3,4.

Research Studies

Azodicarbonamide has been associated with many nefarious health effects in laboratory studies using animals, including:

  • Caused liver and kidney injury in rats5,
  • Led to changes in neurobehavior in rats6,
  • When baked, ADA has been linked to cancer in mice studies7.


As reported by a 2022 study, ADA “is widely used as a flour additive due to its oxidizing and bleaching properties, but it reacts with wet flour during heat processing and is easily decomposed into semicarbazide with genotoxicity and carcinogenicity7.”

A 1999 review from a group of experts for the IPCS INCHEM, the International Program on Chemical Safety from the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded that “there are no adequate data available relating to carcinogenic, reproductive, or developmental effects; hence, it is not possible to evaluate the risk to human health for these end-points8.”

This review concluded that it is not possible to evaluate risk, however, when bread is baked, ADA breaks down into two chemical compounds that are especially concerning: semicarbazide and urethane.

Semicarbazide (SEM)

Reported to cause cancers of the lung and blood vessels in female mice.

The FDA states that “during bread making, ADA completely breaks down to form other chemicals, one of which is SEM. At high levels, SEM has been shown to increase the incidence of tumors when fed to female mice, but not to male mice or either gender of rat. These studies were conducted in rodents at levels of SEM that far exceed estimates of human exposure from the consumption of ADA-treated flour or bread products9.”

Still, it has been showed to induce the formation of tumors!

A 2021 study titled “Sources, Toxicity and Detection Techniques of Semicarbazide: A Review,” stated that “semicarbazide is demonstrated to be accumulative and reproductive toxicity, mutagenicity and genotoxicity, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxicity. There are still many controversies on the effect of genotoxicity and no clear result on the carcinogenic mechanism10.”

Meaning, semicarbazide accumulates in the tissues and can be toxic to the reproductive system, cause mutations and carcinogenicity, disrupt the endocrine system, and be neurotoxic. 

Do you need more reasons to avoid it?

We believe is better safe than sorry. Just avoid semicarbazide and azodicarbonamide.

Urethane

A by-product of fermentation, urethane has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)11. A quick research on PubMed using the words “urethan and cancer” yields more than 2000 results related to urethane-induced carcinogenesis12!

However, when ADA is used at its maximum allowable level (45 ppm in bread) the levels of urethane in bread are very small and considered to pose a small risk to humans. If you toast that same bread, urethane levels increase13. Urethane may also form in some breads not containing ADA.

But again, is it not just better to avoid any carcinogenic compounds in food?

Ban in the European Union

Azodicarbonamide has been banned in the EU for more than a decade and is also not authorized as a food additive in Australia.

Why hasn’t the US moved to ban this chemical from our food supply?

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