A new EWG analysis has found potassium bromate – a possible cancer-causing additive – in more than 86 breads and other baked goods.
The popular additive is used in flour to strengthen the dough, help it rise and give the finished bread an appealing white color.
Research has shown potassium bromate can damage DNA in human liver and intestinal cells. In animal studies, it’s been linked to cancer and tumor development.
Because of the health concerns linked to the chemical, many countries – including the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and others in the European Union – have restricted or banned its use in food. California, the only state that regulates potassium bromate, lists it as a “known carcinogen” and requires a warning label on foods containing it.
In tests on lab animals, exposure to potassium bromate increased the incidence of both benign and malignant tumors in the thyroid and peritoneum – the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. Later research confirmed and expanded these findings, concluding that ingesting potassium bromate resulted in significant increases in cancer of the animals' kidneys, thyroid and other organs.
Potassium bromate also has the potential to disrupt the genetic material within cells. Upon entering the body, potassium bromate can be transformed into molecules called oxides and radicals. These highly reactive molecules can damage DNA and may play a role in the development of cancer. Scientists have observed such damage in human liver and intestine cells, where exposure to potassium bromate resulted in breaks in DNA strands and chromosomal damage.11
Researchers also saw significant damage to the cell membranes of lysosomes – the small intracellular bodies responsible for important cell functions such as cellular digestion – ironically, the process by which food is broken down into components useful to our cells. Models of the relationship between DNA damage and potassium bromate show a consistent low-dose linear response, which means that the amount of DNA damage observed is proportional to the amount of potassium bromate consumed.
Despite the significant evidence of potassium bromate’s harmful health effects, the food industry has long argued that it is of no concern in baked products. The industry claims potassium bromate is theoretically fully converted into potassium bromide, a similar yet non-carcinogenic chemical, during baking. But testing in the United Kingdom revealed that potassium bromate remains detectable after baking, with six out of six unwrapped breads and seven out of 22 packaged breads containing measurable levels.
California is the only state to have taken any measures to warn residents of the dangers associated with this chemical, placing potassium bromate on its Proposition 65 list, which means that products that contain it must carry a cancer warning on their labels. However, no other regulatory agency has taken any action to regulate or remove this dangerous chemical from American grocery store shelves. Our nation’s food additive review system fails in its mandate to keep consumers safe.
How can you avoid it?
Take initiative and be aware! ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENTS! Avoid buying/consuming any product containing potassium bromate and if possible, make your own. Buy a bread maker and make it even easier to DIY! If you’re buying, stick with a product you trust. Although small amounts of unhealthy ingredients may not seem like much, because consumption is regular, the negative effects add up, and in kids, even more so! A little adds up to a lot! Avoid it altogether!