Possible Side-Effects of BHT Ingestion


Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a commonly used antioxidant in foodstuffs for consumption at market areas and some research has been produced to validate that there is or is not toxicity of the compound. But current information seems to indicate problems. Several attempts were made with large loads of BHT in experimental animals to ascertain if there were demonstrable changes.1 Few if any changes were found especially if the liver was the site examined even in such high loads as 500mg.2 Although in some examples lung damage3 was reported along with some metabolic alteration of the lipid metabolism, more specifically lipogenesis is inhibited.4 Even when carried to another extreme in choline deficient diets, there were no fatty livers and arteriosclerosis reduction was accomplished when BHT was added.5,6 Also considered was BHT in various combinations in experiments on cancer rehuction.7 BHT had been noted to reduce fat induced tumors and has a protective effect when experimentally induced cancers were observect.9,l0 It would suffice to say that the changes induced by BHT on malignant tissue are apparent to some degree but much more work would obviously need to be done.

The mechanism of BHT absorption would appear to be by passive diffusion and depending upon total protein ingested in the diet BHT appeared to induce hemorrhage in the pltura, peritoneal cavity, epididymis, testis, and pancreas.12 Especially in protein delicient diets the BHT seemed to remain.13 BHT also caused an increase in vitamin C in the urine and decreased vitamin A reserves in the lung by 44%.11 Still the exact means of excretion of BHT is not known. The compound seems to persist for 2-4 weeks.15 Low level ingestion such as .0085,.017,.033, and up to .5 parts altered the prothrombin time with most effect at the levels above .017 so that the hemorrhage induced by BHT was noted as similar to that of ethoxyquin.16 But the hemorrhage was reduced by phylloquinone.17 Therefore since BHT prolonged prothrombin time18 and is stored unchanged in the lung, kidney, pancreas, brain and adipose tissue 19,20, the effectual outcome may well be that if there is blocking of prothrombin time, the evidence of alteration of the activity on liver enzymes 21 purports to make one suspicious of possible harm in ingestion of this compound. To be sure there may be specie variance 22 but for humans it surely seems that small amounts of BHT ingestion over long periods is malicious.

The concern is that small amounts are in many compounds that are considertd safe, and therefore, widely used, often with no regard to safety of prolonged chronic ingestion. And most especially in those people with low protein intake such as the teen group.

It was not with the previous information in mind when a 52-year-old, male, non-smoking patient complained of pain in the middle knuckle of the right hand. The part was swollen, of normal color tone and the description seemed to fit rheumatoid arthritis in the earlyl stages. His background was unremarkable, his diet was well rounded and more toward unprocessed foods than most, and the beverages not unusual so diet was not suspect. The adjustment to the spine produced little if any result; SMA12 was normal, and CBC normal. He also stated that the same knuckle on the left hand was paining as was the left elbow. The right hand was no longer able to close well, grip loss was noted, he was unable to open a jar without substantial pain and any minor blow to the parts was extremely sensitive. "As though bruised," he said. That comment led to a thermographic scan of the hands and it then seen that the knuckles were cool. Diagnostically, not active arthritis but hemorrhage. 23 Not until he was informed of the outcome of the thermographic scan was any thought of a dietary contaminent considered. The sole compound suspected then was sugarless gum. His choice was Carefree or Bubble Yum. The use rate was perhaps two sticks a day. The use was suspended instantly and the result was that with no other change in diet, there was a rapid relief, Grip returned, pain ceased and frequent enlargement of the joint stopped. The swelling was reduced, the joint could still be seen as larger than the rest of the hand, but not painful as before. After three weeks of removal of all gum chewing as the sole alteration in the diet, the only discomfort was upon rapid opening and closing of the hand. Thermographic scan in10 weeks was normal.

We posted a sign in the office to tell patients to avoid BHT and within a month another patient asked about her problem. She had been told by her dentist to keep a stick of sugarless gum in her mouth constantly to prevent her habit of jaw clenching. Her thermographic scan was that of hemorrhage in the hands and a most unusual pattern. However the most painful joints showed the greatest hemorrhage. She is 42, her diet is not as unprocessed as the male previously discussed, but the only change she made was to stop the gum (Carefree) and within two weeks the pain was gone; she was able to type, sew and do so without the previous discomfort whatsoever. The sole article removed from her diet was the sugarless gum she so frequently chewed. The thermographic scan of the hands was not completely normal but had altered significantly toward the normal display.

The reporting of the information here presented has been done to the generally regarded as safe (GRAS) review department of the FDA in Washington. It was through the cooperation of Mr. Snyder of the local FDA office that we were informed that the companies may use .01 part of BHT in their product. For that information we are grateful. One of the companies states their level of use is 200 PPM. 24

Unfortunate as it may be that millions of people use sugarless gum to reduce tooth decay and avoid sucrose, it would seem that a more deadly side effect has been noted. For if the joints are a display of a more significant systemic problem of prothrombin-B12-clotting alteration, the ingestion of the antioxidant BHT should immediately be stopped until it can be defined by more concise methods, Carefree, Bubble Yum, Supradent, Gatorgum and Hubba Bubba contain BHT. There may be more.



1. Marine, A.A.; Mitchell, J,T, Lung damage following intraperitoneal injection of BHT, Proc. Sec., Exp, Biol, & Med, 1972, 140, 122.

2. Branen, A.L.; Richardson, T.; Goel, M.C,; Alien, J.R, Lipid and Enzyme changes in blood and liver in monkeys given BHT gt BHA. Food Bt Cosmetics Toxicology. 1973, r1,367.

3. Clapp, N.K.; Tyndali, R.L.; Cumming, R,B.; Otten, JIA. Effects of BHT Alone or with diethylnitrosamine in mice. Food & Cosmetics Toxicology, 1974, 12,367.

4. Pascal, G.; Terroine, T. Inhibition of de novo lipogenesis in rat after BHT. Comptes Rendos des Academic des Science, 1974, 279.

5. Wilson, R.B.; Newberne, P.M.; Kula, N.S. Protection by antioxidants against arterial sclerosis of chronic choline deficiency. Exp, & Molec. Pathology, 1974, 21,118,

6. Saheb, W.; Witischi, H. Lung growth in mice after single dose BHT. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 1975, 33,309.

7. King, M,M.; Bailey, D.M.; Gibson, D.D,; Pitha, J,V,; McCay, P.B. Incidence and growth of mammaury tumors as related to dietary fat and antioxidant, Journal of National Cancer Institute. 1979, 63,657,

8. Wilson, R,B,; Middleton, C.C.; Sun, G.Y, Vitamin E, antioxidants and lipid peroxidation in experimental atherosclerosis of rabbits, Journal of Nutrition, 1978, 108,1858.

9. Clapp, N.K.; Bowles, N.D.; Satterfield, L.C.; Klima, W,C, Selective protective effect of BHT against some cancers, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1979, 63, 108

10. Peterson, A.O.; McCann, V,; Black, H.S. Dietary modification of UV-induced epidermal omithinine decarboxylage. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 1980, 73,408.

11. Takahashi, O.; Hiraga, D. Hepatic metabolite of BHT. Food & Cosmetic, 1979, 17,451.

12. Takahashi, OI; Hiraga, K. Relationship between hemorrhage induced by BHT and its antioxidant propertits or structural characteristics. Toxicology and Applied Phar.,1978, 46,811.

13. Nikonorow, M.; Karlowski, K. Effect of reducing protein in the diet on the toxicity of BHT. Roeuliki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny, 1977, 28,23j.

14. Pascal, G.; Hitler, Y.; Tenoint, T. Effects of BHT on vitamin A & C in rat, Inter. Jour. for Vit, and Nut. Rt- search. 1979, 49,3.

15. Ford, S.M.; Hook, J,B.; Bond, J.T, Effects of BHT on renal function. Food & Cosmetics Toxicology, 1980,18,21.

16. Takahashi, O.; Hiraga, K. Dose response study of hemorrhagic death by dietary BHT in male rats. Toxicology & Applied Pharmacology, 1978, 43,399.

17. Takahashi, O.; Hiraga, K, Preventive effects of philloquinone on hemorrhagic death induced by BHT. Journal of Nutrition, 1979, 109,453.

18. Takahashi, O.; Hiraga, K, Effects of Low Level BHT on prothrombin index of male rats. Food gt Cosmetic Toxicology, 1978, 16,469.

19. Rikans, L.E.; Gibson, D.D.; McCay, P.B., King, M.M. Effect of BHT on liver enzymes. Food & Cosmetic Toxicology, 1981, 18,89.

20. Suzki, H.; Nakao, T.; Hiraga, K.I Vitamin K deficiency in male rats fed diets containing BHT. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 1979, 50,261,

21. Ford, S.M.; Hook, J.B.; Bond, J.T. Effects of BHT on renal function. Food & Cosmetic Toxicology, 1980, 18,15.

22. Takahashi, O.; Hayashida, S.; Hiraga, K. Species difference in hemorrhaging response to BHT. Food and Cosmetic Toxicology 1980, 18,229.

23, Dudley, W.N. Extremity Thermography and Low Back Pain. ACA Journal of Chiropractic, Vol. XI, S-29, 3, 1977.

24. Personal Communication, Savers Co., Consumer Relation Dept., New; York, 4-2-82.

JULY/AUGUST, 1982 The Digest of Chiropractic Economics