TBHQ May Stick You With the Flu, Study Says

Ryan Lau | @RyanLau71R

For years, there has been controversy surrounding the chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Currently, it is in many food products as an antioxidant. Essentially, its function is to extend the shelf life of certain foods. Robert Freeborn, a toxicologist at Michigan State University, recently carried out a study that looked at its effects on the flu vaccine. The results were cause for worry for anyone who has received the shot.

TBHQ and the Flu

Freeborn’s study noted that the flu vaccine has been overwhelmingly unsuccessful in the past. This holds up under comparison to CDC data, which shows that over the past two years, the shots have only worked 25% and 47% of the time, respectively. Though vaccination rates have increased, this has not led to a reduction in flu deaths. In fact, 80,000 Americans died from a flu-related cause in the 2017-18 flu season alone.

Investigating this link, Freeborn and his team analyzed how TBHQ may impact the effectiveness of the vaccine. At doses present in a common human diet, they found that the chemical additive “impairs the primary and memory immune responses to influenza infection”.

The flu vaccine, on the other hand, is supposed to boost immune responses by building antibodies. Thus, the study seems to suggest the food additive may mitigate the effects of the shot. Moreover, their previous research has shown that TBHQ impairs the activation of a cell vital to anti-viral defenses.

The FDA has reported a safe intake level of TBHQ: 0.7mg per 1kg of bodyweight. However, short-term animal studies were the prime determinant of this level, and many people, particularly in New Zealand and Australia, eat 180% of this recommendation on an average day. The overshot is less severe in America, but 90% of adults reportedly reach the recommended daily intake.

A Common Ingredient

Without a doubt, TBHQ is incredibly common in American foods, largely because of its ability to keep foods fresher longer. Many restaurants, particularly fast food, use it in their cooking oils. McDonald’s notably has it as an ingredient in their chicken McNuggets.

Going beyond fast food, though, there are still a number of common grocery store foods containing the chemical. A partial list includes the following:

  • Many brands of canola oil and other refined cooking oils
  • Soft drinks
  • Certain soy milk brands
  • Frozen, packaged fish
  • Many packaged cookie, cracker, and chip brands.
  • Some candies, including Nestle Crunch

The general trend appears to be that processed, preserved, and packaged foods are more likely to contain TBHQ than natural, fresh foods. (As TBHQ does not occur naturally, this makes sense). This confirms the general consensus in the scientific community that whole, fresh foods are better for the body than processed foods.


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