Brominated vegetable oil (BVO for short) is a food additive sometimes used to keep citrus flavoring from separating out in sodas and other beverages. Controversy has long surrounded the use of BVO. It's banned as a food additive in Europe but not in the U.S.
Health concerns about BVO stem from one of its ingredients, bromine. Bromine can irritate the skin and mucous membranes (the moist lining of the nose, mouth, lungs and stomach). Long-term exposure can cause neurologic symptoms such as headache, memory loss, and impaired balance or coordination. In the past these symptoms were seen with chronic use of bromide salts as sleep medications. Fortunately, these drugs are no longer widely available in the U.S.
However, there have been reports of people experiencing memory loss and skin and nerve problems after drinking excessive amounts (more than 2 liters a day) of soda containing BVO. While few people are likely to drink such large quantities, concern exists because bromine appears to build up in the body.
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally categorized BVO as "generally recognized as safe," the agency later reversed that decision. The FDA continues to allow the use BVO in small amounts while it performs additional toxicology studies.
So what should you do? Check ingredient labels and don't drink large amounts of BVO-containing beverages. Better yet, take it one step further and cut back on all sugary drinks. Opt instead for healthier choices, such as water, low-fat milk and an occasional glass of 100% fruit juice.