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Tert-butylhydroquinone (THBQ): A synthetic antioxidant used widely in food products

One kind of synthetic antioxidant, which is used widely in food products, is tert-butylhydroquinone (THBQ). It is an aromatic organic compound which is a type of phenol. It is a derivative of hydroquinone, substituted with a tert-butyl group. In the market, this antioxidant is sold as a powder has white color and slight odor. The code numbers of this additive is E319. TBHQ, which is short name of tert-butylhydroquinone, is used in fats, including vegetable oils and animal fats. Therefore, it is also found in a wide range of processed foods since they contain some fats. For example, snack crackers, noodles, and fast and frozen foods. Manufacturers add TBHQ to frozen fish products with the high concentrations. Producers not only mix it with the food, but also spray it on the surface of product. It can also be sprayed onto the outside food packaging as well. This food additive may be found in coffee creamer, peanut butter, bread, chewing gum, chocolate product, soft candy and so on.

Based on the Centers for Science in the Public Interest, a research, which was designed by government, found that this antioxidant increased the incidence of tumors in rats. And according to the National Library of Medicine, some cases of vision disturbances have been reported when humans consume TBHQ. Liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions, and paralysis is the results of study of TBHQ in laboratory animals by National Library of Medicine.

Consuming high doses (between 1 and 4 grams) of TBHQ can lead to several symptoms such as delirium, nausea, collapse, vomiting and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Scientists suggest that it may cause hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may also make Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms more serious and cause restlessness. Estrogen levels in women might be influenced by the presence of THBQ.

In toxicity studies, TBHQ administration with high dose and long term in lab animals was associated to the development of cancerous precursors in the stomach, as well as DNA damage. But unlike other synthetic antioxidant additives, it did not cause lung lesions in laboratory animals. However, TBHQ can make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy agents, according to a study in the June 2008 issue of “Carcinogenesis,” and a study in the June 2014 issue of “Food Chemistry” proved that TBHQ can fragment DNA and cause damage to human lung and umbilical cells.

The Food and Drug Administration has imposed the amount of THBQ is not larger than 0.02 percent of the total oils in foods. Consuming 1g of TBHQ could cause people to experience symptoms ranging from nausea to collapse, while 5g is a lethal dose for human. The FDA’s limits mean that consumers need to eat more than 11 pounds of Chicken McNuggets, which is a kind of American fast foods, to reach a dose of 1 gram of TBHQ. Since it does not accumulate in the body over time, 11 pounds of this fast food have to be eaten in a meal.

Besides that, a survey by the World Health Organization found that the average intake of TBHQ in the United States to be around 0.62 mg/kg of body weight. That’s about 90 percent of the acceptable daily intake. This means the acceptable daily intake of this additive is approximately 0.7 mg/kg of body weight. Person, who eat high fat diets, can consume TBHQ with a dose of 1.2 mg/kg of body weight. This dose reaches 180 percent of the acceptable daily intake approved by WHO.

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