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Food or Poison- Potassium Bromate

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Food or Poison- Potassium Bromate

Potassium Bromate (E924)

Potassium bromate is an oxidizing agent, a water disinfection by-product (a product that results from using ozone as a disinfectant in drinking water), and a widely used food additive, mainly in the bread-making process1.

However, potassium bromate is also a Possible Human Carcinogen. YES! You read that right! In 1999, more than 20 years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considered potassium bromate a possible human carcinogen2. Another cancer-causing agent that can be found in your food.

Health Effects of Potassium Bromate

Studies have concluded that potassium bromate is toxic to the kidneys (nephrotoxic) in humans, and it may induce DNA damage (genotoxicity)1,3, and contribute to hearing loss4. Potassium bromate has many other nefarious effects in experimental rats, including:

  • toxicity to the kidneys (nephrotoxicity)5
  • mutagenic (induces mutations) and carcinogenic (causes cancer) effect5,6
  • it affects the central nervous system (changes in the cerebellum and neuro behavior)7
  • induces renal cell tumors (cancer of the kidney), mesotheliomas of the peritoneum (a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen), and thyroid tumors5
  • cardiac toxicity (toxic for the heart)8
  • toxicity of the bone and blood9
  • toxic to the liver/hepatic tissue and alters liver function10

It also alters the Nutritional Value of Foods!

Besides being carcinogenic, and as if that was not enough, potassium bromate impacts the nutritional value of food, namely of bread. The use of potassium bromate can lead to the depletion of vitamins, such as A, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) and E, and iron, both in the flour and dough11,12.

Worldwide Ban

Several countries have banned potassium bromate as flour additive:

  • European Union (1990)
  • United Kingdom (1990)
  • Nigeria (1993)
  • Canada (1994)
  • Sri Lanka (2001)
  • Brazil (2001)
  • Colombia (2002)
  • China (2005)
  • India (2016)
  • Australia and New Zealand

Not Banned in the US

The US and Japan have not banned potassium bromate but set a maximum allowable intake in finished bakery products. The maximum permissible level set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is 50 μg/g of flour (10 μg/g of flour in Japan). In California, food products containing potassium bromate must have a warning label13.

Symptoms of Potassium Bromate Intoxication in Humans

Symptoms of intoxication with potassium bromate can include13:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • irritation to the mucous membrane of the upper respiratory and digestive tract
  • vomiting
  • sore throat
  • kidney disorder
  • low urine output (oliguria)
  • lack of urine (anuria, an extreme form of oliguria)
  • abnormally low levels of platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia)
  • vertigo (a false sense that your surroundings are spinning or moving)
  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • depression
  • hearing impairment
  • destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis)
  • lung and eye problems

In Cameroon, a study evaluating symptoms of potassium-bromated toxicity experienced by bakers during the process of baking bread concluded that “all bakers have experienced symptoms of potassium bromate toxicity13” adding that “painful eyes, cough, diarrhea, and sore throat were the most recurrent symptoms of toxicity13.” They further stated that there is a “carcinogenic risk over prolonged regular consumption of all the bread types13,” and “an urgent need for regulatory authorities in Cameroon to monitor, control or prohibit the use of potassium bromate as a flour additive13.”

The values measured by this study exceeded the maximum acceptable limits established by the FDA in the US, however shouldn’t a chemical with such obvious health concerns be banned from the food we eat in the US altogether?

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