The Quest to Detox Sports Drinks

Flame retardants in Gatorade and soda garner more attention.

Leah Zerbe December 13, 2012

A controversial sports drink ingredient garners new scrutiny.

If news of chemical flame retardants in Gatorade and certain sodas makes you want to spit your drink out, know that there's a 15-year-old going to bat to clean up the soft drink industry.

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The New York Times recently ran the story of Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississippi teen who started a Change.org petition urging Gatorade to take a questionable chemical called brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, out of drinks. Just before Christmas, she was closing in on the 200,000-signature mark. She hopes the online pressure will convince PepsiCo, the owner of Gatorade, to reformulate the drink using less questionable chemicals.


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Currently banned in Japan and the European Union, BVO contains bromine, an element under fire for its use in brominated flame retardants, which are added to furniture foam and some baby products. This alleged form of fire protection has been proved to not really work and it exposes children and adults to compounds linked to neurological problems, including autism and other learning disabilities. BVO has been shown to cause bromide poisoning symptoms like skin lesions and memory loss, as well as nerve disorders.


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In drinks, the brominated vegetable oil is used in beverages like Mountain Dew, some orange-flavor sodas, and certain Gatorade and Powerade drinks to prevent the artificial flavor from separating from the rest of the liquid. In other words, it's purely for cosmetic reasons.

BVO has been in use for about 30 years, although, as is the case with many food ingredients, its impact on human health has never been thoroughly tested. If you'd like to practice the precautionary principle, read ingredients labels and avoid drinks that list BVO and brominated vegetable oil as an ingredient. If you need a replacement for electrolyte-rich sports drinks, some coconut waters may do the trick. ConsumerLab tests found Zico Natural and Pure Premium Coconut Water lived up to their electrolyte claims, while some other brands did not.