What is TBHQ?


If you’ve ever tried to read the ingredients on the back of any Kellogg’s branded product, nine times out of ten you’ll probably come across the hard to pronounce ingredient of Tertiary butylhydroquinone or TBHQ. Tertiary butylhydroquinone/TBHQ isn’t only found in Kellogg’s products it’s found in most processed foods available at the grocery store and even cosmetics. In most recent studies, findings found a link between TBHQ and damage to the immune system. 


What Is TBHQ?

By definition, TBHQ is an additive and is often used as a preservative, and is categorized as an antioxidant. Usually, when we think of antioxidants we think of super-foods such as blueberries, however synthetic antioxidants such as TBHQ are usually used to extend the shelf lives of whatever they’re in and even delay oxidation. Oxidation causes food to lose flavor quality, color and can even cause foods to become toxic. In addition, oxidation causes vitamins to break down, causing food to lose some of its nutritional value, which is what TBHQ tends to delay. Since TBHQ is a man-made substance and technically it can be considered vegan, which is why a lot of companies can market their products as vegan.

TBHQ is often found with other preservatives within products including but not limited to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in food packaging, propyl gallate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHA and TBHQ are closely related in that TBHQ forms when the body metabolizes BHA.


Where can you find TBHQ?

You can find TBHQ in both food and cosmetic products:


Food Products: 
  • Processed fats and oils like canola oil
  • Frying and cooking oil at many restaurants (particularly fast food)
  • Most non-organic, packaged foods (chips, crackers, noodles, 
  • Frozen, non-organic fish products
  • Soft drinks
  • Some soy milk brands
Cosmetic products:

Dangers of TBHQ

Immune system complications:


In recent studies, TBHQ has been linked to immune system complications especially when combined with PFAS found in the food packaging of products containing TBHQ. One study found that TBHQ actually negatively interacts with proteins that control immune responses such as white blood cell function. 


Possible carcinogen:

In one study evidence suggests that TBHQ promotes the growth of cancer cells. Large consumption of TBHQ can also increase resistance to chemotherapy drugs and help cancer cells live longer.


Can cause neurological symptoms:


A study put out by the National Library of Medicine found that TBHQ causes vision issues, convulsions, and medullary paralysis (a stage of paralysis in which the medulla, the part of the brain that controls breathing and vital bodily processes, is slowed) in human consumption and animals that consumed TBHQ  caused liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions, and paralysis.


Can cause behavioral changes:


Some believe BHA and TBHQ also affect human behavior. It’s this belief that has landed the ingredients on the “do not consume” list of the Feingold Diet, a dietary approach to managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Advocates of this diet say that those who struggle with their behavior should avoid TBHQ.


Can damage red blood cells: 


There is a possibility for TBHQ to damage the structure of red blood cell membranes. While it’s not clear what long-term issues this might cause, the researchers in this lab study said in their conclusion that “deleterious effects on other biological membranes are also likely to occur.”

Can cause allergic contact reactions:


TBHQ is found in many cosmetics and other products you may touch or use topically so it’s important to note that it can cause issues with skin. Case studies have found that people have developed allergic contact dermatitis from TBHQ, specifically in cosmetics. This reaction may also be related to cross-reactions with BHA and BHT which is commonly found with TBHQ in products. 

How to avoid TBHQ

Even though the FDA has ruled the amount of TBHQ found in products is considered safe for consumption, it’s better to not put your health at risk. However, if you’re concerned about your consumption of TBHQ, there’s good news. For starters, TBHQ is water-soluble. The water solubility of this antioxidant means it doesn’t bioaccumulate (build up in your body). Once you stop being exposed to it, you can reduce any problematic symptoms it might have caused.

In addition, there are tons of natural substitutes to use instead of TBHQ, basically choices that don’t require a laboratory first. Not only do these substances exist, but they also tend to have more antioxidant value than TBHQ and lack the side effects of their synthetic counterparts. 

 Here are a couple of tricks on how to avoid TBHQ:


  1. Eliminate processed foods from your diet: Easier said than done in most cases, but if you’ve been needing an excuse to remove junk food from your diet this is a good cause to change.
  2. Check the back of your cosmetics: Believe it or not there are tons of more natural options for clean cosmetics on the market. Although for cosmetic products it feels like choose your vice for ingredients there are brands that are actively eliminating highly toxic preservatives.
  3. Remove soda: Soda has always been controversial to health however sometimes it seems impossible to remove from diets. Luckily an alternative to soda is Kombucha which has a soda taste but lacks all the additives.
  4. Remove butter and vegetable oils: This is also a hard transition but luckily there are tons of natural oils that provide more nutritional value and lack





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