Skip to Content

Sodium Benzoate: side effects

What are the possible side effects of sodium benzoate?


Sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid and is commonly used as an antimicrobial substance and food preservative.

It is made by the neutralization of benzoic acid, a substance that is present in numerous products, ranging from cosmetics to food.

In the US, this food additive is designated as generally recognized as safe by the US FDA. As a food additive, sodium benzoate has the E number E211.

The Food and Drug Administration has limited the addition of E211 as a preservative to 0.1 percent by weight.

It also occurs naturally in teas and some fruits, including – plums, apples, prunes (dry plums), and cranberries.

Uses of E221

It is commonly used as a preservative (preservatives are the substances added to food to prevent undesirable chemical changes or decompositions by microbial growth) found in many soft drinks and foods, including:

  • syrups;
  • pickles;
  • olives;
  • fruit juices;
  • condiments;
  • sauces;
  • jams;
  • carbonated drinks;
  • vinegar;
  • salads.


To prevent bacteria from contaminating these health and beauty products, many producers add this compound to:

  • deodorants;
  • hair colorants;
  • conditioners;
  • liquid soap;
  • body lotions;
  • hairsprays;
  • shampoo;
  • body and facial washes;
  • sunscreens;
  • baby care products (baby wipes);
  • mouthwashes and toothpaste.

It is also useful in the following:

  • used in preventing wine fermentation;
  • ingredient to animal foods;
  • pet care products;
  • silver polish preparation;
  • antifreeze;
  • medications, such as – liquid acetaminophen, liquid cough syrups, amoxicillin, and medicinal creams.


Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that affects how a person behaves, thinks, and feels. The cause of schizophrenia is still unclear, but some scientists think that it is caused by:

  • autoimmune disorders;
  • viral infections;
  • abnormalities in the brain’s structure or chemistry;
  • genetics (heredity).

Alzheimer’s is the most frequent form of dementia, a medical term for memory loss, and other cognitive problems. The exact cause of the disease is not yet fully understood, however, some factors are believed to increase the risk of developing the condition, such as:

  • lifestyle factors, such as a junk food diet, sedentarism, poor sleeping habits, smoking tobacco, or alcohol abuse;
  • a family history of the condition;
  • untreated depression;
  • increasing age.

According to a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, E221 has positive results for Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

Multiple Sclerosis

According to a 2009 study that was published in the “Journal of Immunology,” E221 has potential use in helping treat multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, commonly disabling disease of the CNS (central nervous system), which disrupts the flow of information between the brain and body, and within the brain.

Multiple sclerosis is about 2 to 3 times more common in women than men. Also, it is most frequently diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s, however, it can develop at any age.


Sodium benzoate is combined with sodium phenylacetate (the sodium salt form of phenylacetate) to treat hyperammonemia, a condition that is characterized by elevated levels of ammonia in the blood.

Hyperammonemia typically occurs when nitrogen load exceeds the capacity for clearance.

Is It Vegan?

Yes. It is derived from a reaction of benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide, therefore, E221 is actually the sodium salt of benzoic acid.

ALSO READ: Gellan Gum (E418) – Side Effects

Side Effects of Sodium Benzoate

This chemical can cause the following side effects:

  • diarrhea;
  • weakness;
  • increased anxiety;
  • irritation of the stomach;
  • unexplained weight gain;
  • dizziness;
  • heart palpitations;
  • nausea;
  • sleepiness;
  • abdominal pain;
  • convulsions;
  • hypotension.

Allergic Reactions

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:

  • watery or itchy eyes;
  • hives (itchy red spots on the skin);
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • itching;
  • tightness in the chest;
  • nasal congestion;
  • abdominal cramping;
  • rash;
  • difficulty breathing;
  • scratchy throat;
  • wheezing;
  • swelling of the eyes, face, or tongue;
  • flushing of the face.

ALSO READ: Magnesium Malate: Side Effects


In combination with ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate may form benzene. Chronic exposure to benzene can significantly reduce the production of both white and red blood cells from bone marrow, possibly leading to aplastic anemia.

More importantly, long-term exposure to benzene can cause cancer of the blood-forming organs. According to studies, benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia (a type of cancer that is characterized by an overproduction of immature white blood cells).

Also, there is limited evidence that benzene may also cause multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

DNA Damage

According to the data, E221 itself can damage DNA by attacking the cells’ mitochondria.

Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of the cell, transforming nutrients and oxygen into adenosine triphosphate.

Also, the mitochondria are involved in other cellular activities, such as – cellular differentiation, signaling, and cell senescence. Plus, mitochondria control cell growth and cell cycle.

The parts of the human body, like – the brain, heart, lungs, and muscles, requiring the highest amounts of energy, are the most affected.

ALSO READ: Caffeine Free Sodas

How To Avoid Sodium Benzoate and Other Chemicals

If you’re concerned about consuming food preservatives like sodium benzoate, be sure to check the ingredient lists of the products you purchase. In addition:

Grow Your Own Vegetables and Fruits In Your Garden

The only way to be sure that you are eating 100 percent organic products is by growing them yourself.

Always Wash Fruits and Veggies Before Eating Them

This is probably the most important rule if you want to stay on the food safety side – even if you have just picked your vegetables and fruits up from your garden, always wash them before eating them.

Hand Wash Plastic Containers

Plastic containers leach harmful chemicals into other dishes in the dishwasher. Plus, make your own cleaning products.

Go BPA-Free

Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables instead and ditch canned foods – when possible.

Other tips include:

  • buy prepared sauces, soups, and condiments in glass jars;
  • let food cool to room temperature before putting it into plastic storage containers;
  • avoid synthetic fragrances;
  • use cloth or canvas bags when shopping;
  • choose organic for all your food;
  • use ceramic, glass, stainless steel, or wood containers for storage;
  • keep harmful chemicals out of the house;
  • use ceramic or glass bowls or dishes to heat drinks or food in the microwave;
  • eat more fresh food;
  • reduce take-out and fast food;
  • use stainless steel or glass water bottles;
  • never heat food or drinks in plastic containers in the microwave.

READ THIS NEXT: Prunes vs Dates – Comparison