Sodium Benzoate (C7H5NaO2) is a chemical which is usually in the form of an odorless, colorless powder. It is the product of a reaction between sodium hydroxide with benzoic acid.
This chemical is used primarily to help preserve food, drinks (especially carbonated soft drinks), cosmetics, and medicines for extended periods of time. Since most bacteria and fungi (mold) find sodium benzoate toxic, they will tend not to grow on treated food. This preservative is most effective in foods which are acidic (have a pH of 4.5 or less).
Sodium benzoate has been found potentially useful in stopping the progression of Parkinson’s Disease, reducing the ammonia in the bloodstream thus helping with urea cycle disorders, and treating hyperammonemia. It is also believed that this could be helpful in treating schizophrenia.
Since sodium benzoate is somewhat volatile, it is used as a fuel for some fireworks. It makes a whistling sound as it burns if it is packed properly. However, it can also explode on impact, so it must be used with care.
There have been a number of studies which have linked sodium benzoate with a variety of maladies, including ADHD, cancer, and Asthma. However, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to a 0.1% concentration in foods, drinks, and medicines. It is officially recognized that when sodium benzoate is combined with Vitamin C and exposed to increased heat or light, benzene in formed, which is a known carcinogen. However, some studies suggest that Sodium Benzoate is itself carcinogenic. For example, professor Piper (a molecular biology expert at Sheffield University) found that pure sodium benzoate damages the mitochondrial DNA of yeast cells. It is not a stretch of logic in the least to say that it may also harm the DNA of other cells, whether in the mitochondria or elsewhere. Even if it does not damage the mitochondrial DNA, sodium benzoate at lease restricts the oxygen flow to mitochondria. This weakens the effected cells, making them more susceptible to cancer and other diseases.
However, many still contest that this chemical is safe in the quantities it is used. Research is still ongoing, and people from both sides of this issue are hoping for definitive results.