Disodium EDTA: What You Need To Know
Today’s post is all about Disodium EDTA, an additive found in many household items like personal care products, cleaners, cosmetics and food. This isn’t a sexy post by any means, in fact it is a bit dry – but it does answer the question many of my clients have asked me after seeing Disodium EDTA listed as an ingredient in food and objects around their homes:
“What the heck is Disodium EDTA?!”
What is Disodium EDTA?
EDTA is also known as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid and has the chemical formula C10H16N2O8. It is a dry, odorless, white crystalline powder synthesized in a lab from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. Disodium EDTA is the salt produced as a result.
Disodium EDTA is a metal chelation agent, which means it binds with and deactivates heavy metal ions.
How to identify Disodium EDTA
Disodium EDTA is used in personal care products, cosmetics, cleaning products, industrial products, foods and beverages.
If Disodium EDTA is in a product that comes into direct contact with skin or is ingested, the additive will be listed in the ingredient label of that item. It may be listed in several ways, including: Disodium EDTA, EDTA, EDTA disodium, disodium, Disodium EDTA Violet 2, Disodium EDTE and Disodiume EDTA.
The uses of Disodium EDTA
Medical applications: Medicinally, it is used as a therapeutic chelating agent to bind and remove excess calcium, lead and other heavy metals from the body. It is also used in blood testing and blood transfusions as an anticoagulant.
Personal care products: Disodium EDTA can be found in many manufactured personal care products, such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, bubble bath, soap, anti-aging cream, skin moisturizer/lotion, hand sanitizer, hair dye, hair sprays, shaving cream, after shave, deodorant, sunscreen, eye drops and cosmetics. Its chelation properties prevent rancidity, giving such products a longer shelf life. It also enhances foaming of shampoo and gels and helps product rinse thoroughly from the skin and hair.
Cleaning supplies: Disodium EDTA is also found in cleaning supplies, such as laundry detergent. In these products, it is used as a water softener and detergent enhancer.
Industrial products: Disodium EDTA is used in the textiles and paper pulp industry to bleach and maintain colors and dyes. It is also used industrially for the maintenance, cleaning and priming of equipment and machinery.
Food products: Disodium EDTA is found in food products such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, canned foods (beans, pie filling, pickles, mushrooms, potatoes, sauces, seafood, etc.), soda, bottled teas, beer, margarines and more. It is used to bind metals that occur during the harvesting, manufacturing and packaging of food. The chelating properties of Disodium EDTA reduce the metallic taste that is present in some canned foods. Disodium EDTA also increases the shelf life of products by preventing rancidity, discoloration, and the separation of oils and fats.
Although deemed safe by these two organizations, there is limited data about the true safety of Disodium EDTA in food and cosmetics.
Advocates claim that Disodium EDTA does not reach a toxic level in humans until about 2.5 – 3 grams is taken in by the body. However, they also state that it may be considered dangerous to health when consumed for several consecutive days.
Scientific studies have shown that there health risks are linked to this chemical.
Health concerns of Disodium EDTA
Medicinal complications: When used as a medicinal chelating agent, there are several possible adverse effects of Disodium EDTA. Side effects include skin problems, depletion of important metals/vitamins (such as calcium and iron), low blood pressure, headaches, migraines, heart palpitations, asthma, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, weight gain and the lowering of blood sugar.
Potential chemical reaction: Disodium EDTA in reaction with active and unstable ingredients (such as Vitamin C and sodium bicarbonate/baking soda) forms benzene, a potent carcinogen.
Toxicity in lab animals: Disodium EDTA allegedly causes toxicity in mammals. Though it is considered safe for use, it has been found to be toxic to cells and potentially carcinogenic in lab animals. In animal experimentation, rabbits that received high oral doses of Disodium EDTA showed signs of severe diarrhea and died. Closer examination of a number of their organs showed degenerative changes in the liver, kidney, parathyroid and endocrine organs. Edema in muscle, brain, and heart tissues was also observed at all levels during the treatment.
Long-term risk: Studies have shown that long-term ingestion/application of Disodium EDTA is unsafe, as it may cause serious toxicity within the body, kidney damage, dangerously low calcium levels and even death.
Penetration enhancer: Some studies claim Disodium EDTA is a ‘penetration enhancer’ which means that it disrupts the surface of skin cells, allowing other chemicals to enter the body more easily. Other chemicals include those found in your product with Disodium EDTA, and chemicals in your shower water, and other products such as lotions, makeup and sunscreen that you may use on your skin.
Some scientists suggest that Disodium EDTA is a pollutant to the environment due to the large quantities used in industrial applications, medical utilization and manufacturing.
In a paper published in the May/June 2006 issue of Environmental Engineering Science, Zhiwen Yuan and Jeanne M. VanBriesen identified calcium disodium EDTA and other EDTA salts as persistent organic pollutants (POP). They detailed how EDTA breaks down in the environment into ethylenediamine triacetic acid and then diketopiperazine. Diketopiperazine is a persistent organic pollutant, similar to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT).
Limit your exposure
I recommend that you reduce your exposure to Disodium EDTA as much as possible. I suggest this for a few reasons: 1. EDTA is a synthetic chemical manufactured in a lab. 2. Limited data is available about the potential side effects of Disodium EDTA in humans. 3. Some research study results have already linked Disodium EDTA to health risks.
As a whole, people are using more items containing artificial ingredients than ever before in history. There are so many toxins around us already… why expose yourself to another one when you can avoid it?
The good news is that there are many products that do not contain this additive. Here are some alternatives.
Alternatives to Disodium EDTA in personal care products
To reduce your exposure to Disodium EDTA, choose products that are 100% natural and free of synthetic ingredients.
These preservative-free items may have a shorter shelf life and less foaming action, but this is a minor sacrifice for natural skin and hair care. Consider buying smaller quantities of natural products and be prepared to replenish them more frequently than the ones containing artificial additives and synthetic dyes.
Alternatives to Disodium EDTA in food products
Always read products’ nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Only choose brands that do not have Disodium EDTA on their label. If you see Disodium EDTA or any variation of it (listed above), do not buy that product.
Buy smaller quantities of unprocessed foods more frequently. If it’s difficult to make it to the grocery store multiple times a week, meal prep your own foods ahead of time and freeze them.
Since Disodium EDTA is commonly found in products such as salad dressings, you may want to make homemade dressings made with healthy ingredients such as olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and herbs.
- Not All Chickpeas Are The Same: Not all canned chickpeas are the same! Some companies add color-preserving and mold inhibiting additives to their chickpeas. Here’s what you need to know.
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When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.