Julie Bromberg, Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund
A 2010 study found that some fruit juices contain too much antimony, a potentially harmful chemical. This study of juices sold in Europe found that certain juices have over twice as much antimony as is allowed in drinking water in Europe and the United States. Should we stop drinking fruit juices? At this point, the answer is no.
There is no reason to panic. First, there are no studies of antimony in fruit juices or other drinks in the United States, so we don’t know if they have high levels or not. Secondly, the study only tested 42 bottles, all of which were sold in Europe.
On the other hand, there is reason for concern and more research is needed. Little is known about the health effects of long-term exposure to low doses of antimony, but scientists are concerned that antimony can cause cancer and damage the reproductive system of men and women. Scientists are particularly concerned about children because they are more likely to drink juices than adults, and children tend to be more vulnerable to the negative health effects of chemicals. And, remember that most fruit juices are high in sugar and calories. So, there is little benefit to drinking large quantities of fruit juices, and that might be a better reason to cut back.
Antimony is a metal that exists in very low levels in our environment. Small amounts of antimony are often present in our air, drinking water, and food. You can also be exposed to antimony through skin contact with soil, water, or other substances that contain antimony.
Antimony is used to create a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is frequently used as packaging material in the food industry. Researchers believe that antimony can leach out of the PET packaging and into the juice (or other drinks/food), but they are not sure if PET is actually the source of antimony in fruit juices. Since antimony can come from a variety of places in our environment, it is also possible that antimony could enter the juice before or during the manufacturing process.
Previous studies of bottled water in Europe and Canada also found traces of antimony, but in much lower concentrations than was found in the 2010 study.[5,6,7] Juices in the 2010 study had up to 17 times higher concentration of antimony than the bottled water that was analyzed in previous reports.
To protect our health, the first and easiest step is to determine if most or all of the antimony is coming from the fruit, the plastic, or the manufacturing process. Once that is determined, the next step is to determine how high the levels are in fruit juices and in other foods or beverages and in different countries. If high levels of antimony are common, it will be important to do the more complicated research needed to find out if antimony increases the risk of cancer or other diseases.
- Hansen C, Tsirigotaki A, Bak SA, Pergantis SA, Sturup S., Gammelgaard B, and Hansen HR. (2010). Elevated antimony concentrations in commercial juices. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, DOI: 10.1039/b926551a.
- Choe S-K, Kim S-J, Kim H-G, Lee JH, Choi Y, Lee H, and Kim Y. (2003) Evaluation of estrogenicity of major heavy metals. The Science of the Total Environment, 312: 15-21.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Nutrition. (2001) The use and misuse of fruit juice in pediatrics. Pediatrics, 107(5): 1210-1213.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (1992) Toxicological profile for antimony. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. Accessed March 3, 2010 at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/phs23.html
- Westerhoff P, Prapaipongb P, Shockb E, and Hillaireau A. (2008). Antimony leaching from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic used for bottled drinking water. Water Research, 42(3): 551-556
- Shotyk W, Krachler M, and Chen B. (2006). Contamination of Canadian and European bottled waters with antimony from PET containers, Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 8: 288-292
- Keresztes S, Tatár E, Mihucz VG, Virág I, Majdik C, and Záray G. (2009) Leaching of antimony from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into mineral water. Science of the Total Environment, 407: 4731-4735